The L.A. Lakers find themselves in a terribly odd spot as the second half of the season continues: well outside the No. 1 spot in the conference, with a chance of going on the road in the first round. The Lakers finished No. 2 behind the San Antonio Spurs last season, but have landed in the top four in the conference in each year since acquiring Pau Gasol. With the Oklahoma City Thunder running away with the No. 1 spot and the Spurs, L.A. Clippers and Houston Rockets making legitimate claims to top-4 seeds, L.A. could find itself away from Staples in the first round.
But a big trade at the deadline could definitely change the team's trajectory and give the franchise new life as the Kobe Bryant era slowly winds down.
NEEDS & TARGETS
To say that the Lakers desperately need a point guard is a great understatement. According to 82games.com, the team's PER differential at the position is -7, equal to the team's advantages at shooting guard and center. In other words, the awfulness of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake completely counter the brilliance of Kobe. A mediocre point guard would be a massive upgrade.
Kyle Lowry is a name tied to Lakers rumors, with Pau Gasol the supposed bait. But Houston isn't interested in losing Lowry, the team's best player. Aiming lower, the Lakers have been linked to Ramon Sessions, and it'd be easy to see L.A. consider players like Kirk Hinrich, Beno Udrih or even Jordan Farmar. (The phrase is, "You can always go home again," right?)
The Lakers also have problems at small forward, where Metta World Peace's game-to-game performance has become a dice roll and where Matt Barnes is suitable only on defense. A more consistent performer there would be useful, but it's a far lower priority than point guard.
SALARY CAP SITUATION
The Lakers are tremendously over the luxury tax threshold at a salary of $87 million, according to ShamSports.com. The team's expiring contracts are all relatively small (Barnes is tops at $1.9 million), so outside of larger talent-based deals, cutting salary will be difficult.