Why the Lakers need to package Talen Horton-Tucker in a trade for Rockets forward P.J. Tucker

Peter Dewey
9 Min Read

The Los Angeles Lakers are looking to upgrade their roster ahead of the March 25th trade deadline.

Los Angeles could entertain some of the names that will eventually be on the buyout market, but it also could try to facilitate a trade to upgrade its roster around LeBron James.

With Anthony Davis out of the lineup due to a calf injury, the Lakers need to find another frontcourt player to help them weather the storm. While Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris are all viable players to step into Davis’ role, the Lakers could look elsewhere as they try to win back-to-back titles.

One possibility for Los Angeles is Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker. After the Rockets released center DeMarcus Cousins, it seems very possible that they could trade Tucker since he is in the final year of his deal.

The Rockets are entering a rebuilding stage after trading James Harden, and Tucker could help them acquire an asset to jump-start their rebuild.

The Lakers are sort of asset-strapped because of the Davis trade, but they do have an intriguing young guard in Talen Horton-Tucker that could help them facilitate a deal.

Now, the Rockets certainly could field offers that give them a better draft pick or asset than Horton-Tucker, but he also makes a lot of sense for Houston as well.

The Rockets could have a hole at guard if Victor Oladipo leaves in free agency this coming offseason, and Horton-Tucker could be a cheaper option to fill that void.

From the Lakers standpoint, they are able to acquire a piece that would help them win now for a player that may not have a future with the team.

The potential deal

Lakers receive: P.J. Tucker
Rockets receive: Wesley Matthews, Alfonzo McKinnie, Talen Horton-Tucker

Now, here are three reasons why a Horton-Tucker for Tucker trade would makes sense for Los Angeles:

1. LeBron James’ Championship Window

The Lakers’ championship window is now. James is 36 years old, but he is still playing at an MVP-caliber level.

That’s why this should be a simple decision for the Lakers.

Tucker’s defensive ability and 3-point shooting would immediately help the team and allow James to handle the ball even more with Dennis Schroder out of the lineup.

Tucker is a career 35.9 percent 3-point shooter, and he has posted defensive win shares of 3.0, 3.0 and 2.4 over the past three seasons.

This year, he has accumulated just 0.9 defensive win shares, but he is also playing almost five less minutes per game this season.

While Schroder should be back in the lineup sooner than Davis, the Lakers need to maximize their roster around James.

Horton-Tucker is a solid young player, but he doesn’t have the pedigree or experience Tucker has. He is shooting just 29.6 percent from 3 this season and isn’t close to the defensive player that Tucker has been in his career.

While Tucker is a free agent after this season, he certainly would give the Lakers a better chance to compete for a title this season.

With Davis out, the Lakers need a defender in their frontcourt, and when Davis returns, Tucker can play the role as a defensive specialist late in the season and in the playoffs. Having Tucker to match up on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker and some of the other elite wings in the West would help the Lakers take a load off of James’ plate come the postseason.

The Lakers can really make some noise for the rest of James’ career as long as they maximize the talent around him, and that may mean finding established veteran players rather than younger players whose values are predicated on potential.

Horton-Tucker may be a good piece in the future, but he simply doesn’t fit the timeline of this current Lakers team.

2. THT Lacks Vision, Court Awareness and Basketball IQ

Part of the reason why this deal would be intriguing to Houston is that it would be getting back all potentially expiring contracts.

Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, McKinnie’s deal isn’t guaranteed for next season and Matthews will be an unrestricted free agent.

There is no guarantee the Lakers would even bring Horton-Tucker back if he was on the team, since another organization may overpay him in restricted free agency so the Lakers can’t match its offer sheet.

While the Rockets, who aren’t as salary-cap strapped, could match an offer to keep Horton-Tucker long term if this trade did happen, the Lakers don’t have that luxury.

A team could pry Horton-Tucker from the Lakers if it overpays or if Los Angeles simply chooses not to match, which means the Lakers could be losing the young guard for nothing anyway.

Since he doesn’t fit the team’s timeline, it makes more sense to use Horton-Tucker as an asset to help win this season, rather than risk losing him in free agency.

He has talent, but Horton-Tucker is averaging just 6.8 points in 17.0 minutes per game this season, and at times has shown a one-dimensional game due to his lack of passing, court awareness and basketball IQ. Simply put, his game doesn’t fit with the Lakers offense most of the time.

If he truly was a difference-maker on the roster right now, he’d have a much larger role.

The Lakers would be better off moving him for a player that could potentially have a key role than holding onto him and hoping that they can bring him back for the 2021-22 campaign.

3. Positionless Tucker

Last season, Tucker spent time playing center for the Rockets as they tried to go with a smaller lineup in the second half of the season.

While Houston was eliminated by the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs, it showed that Tucker can play bigger than his size.

If the Lakers were to acquire Tucker, they could use him as a small-ball 4 alongside Harrell against teams.

He also could play alongside Marc Gasol at the 4, or with Harrell and Gasol at the 3.

Adding a player that can fit in at so many spots allows for the Lakers to play James on the ball more often and mix-and-match their lineup based on matchups.

When Davis returns, Tucker wouldn’t be completely out of the rotation because of his ability to play different positions and shoot the 3. If the Lakers traded for or signed a defensive-minded center, it would leave them with less options once Davis returned to the lineup.

Tucker isn’t close to the offensive player Davis is, but he would allow the Lakers to move things around in their lineup to put players in better situations to succeed.

Right now, Horton-Tucker is vying for minutes with Matthews, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Schroder (when healthy) and Alex Caruso. He is a fringe rotation player at times, and it is hard to see Frank Vogel trusting him over his veterans come playoff time.

While Horton-Tucker seems to have potential, the Lakers are looking to win now. If Houston were to entertain a THT for Tucker swap, the Lakers should listen.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.