As the trade deadline drew closer last winter, the Lakers found themselves in much the same position they were in at the previous deadline—badly in need of a roster-shaking trade and desperately short of the resources to make one happen. The best package featured guards Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn, a pair of players expected to be valuable contributors for the team, and the team mildly shopped the duo last season. But with Horton-Tucker’s erratic development having taken a downswing and with Nunn’s surprisingly persistent knee injury, each was viewed around the league as a seriously a dented can by the time February arrived.
It’s spring now, though. With the passage of the league’s draft lottery and the advent of the conference finals, perhaps the view of the pair has changed or, at least softened. Because if the Lakers plan on tipping off next season with Russell Westbrook on the roster, there will be precious few opportunities to make actual changes on the team. And reviving the value of the THT-Nunn package is the most significant way to do that.
Surprisingly, that value was not left entirely reduced to ashes by the tire fire that was the Lakers’ 2021-22 season. In fact, a handful of coaches and executives from around the league told Heavy.com that they still very much believe in Horton-Tucker as a prospect, and in Nunn—balky knee and all—as a solid contributor.
“I think, with Talen, obviously he did not get to where everyone wanted him to be that quickly,” one Western Conference coach told Heavy.com. “But he is 21 years old. He is playing for the Lakers and development is not the biggest thing there. Every season he has been in the league, there has been COVID and the bubble and something that has gotten in the way of him making steps. But I think most of us would take him on our team in a minute. He is big (6-foot-4) and long, he can handle the ball, he can initiate the offense, he will be a good defender even if he is not there yet. He has value.”
An Eastern Conference executive agreed. “He was young when he came into the league, he’s still young now,” the exec said. “He is still raw in a lot of ways, inconsistent. But he steps up a lot when he gets the chance.”
The executive also said that Nunn has value, “because it’s a no-lose contract. Him and THT, it was the best package they could do, really.” Nunn has said he will pick up his player option (he can’t be traded until after that happens) worth $5.3 million for one year.
Who could the Lakers target with the pair? It might be tough to get anything done without giving up a future first-rounder, and the Lakers are short in that respect—they can’t trade a pick until 2027, and are reluctant to give up picks that far out. But it won’t be impossible. The exec threw out, hypothetically, Duncan Robinson of the Heat, Malik Beasley of the Timberwolves and Christian Wood of the Rockets.
“Obviously, you need a team that is interested in developing Horton-Tucker,” the exec said, “but they also need to have a player on their own side they’re OK with giving up on, a guy who has his own warts. That’s the only chance there.”
Wayward Sixer Still Has a Big Fan in Chicago
The Sixers have a long list of issues to shore up this offseason, and all things considered, Matisse Thybulle and his $4.4 million contract is not the most pressing. But there was obvious frustration in Philadelphia during the playoffs as it became clear that Thybulle’s inability to develop a 3-point shot rendered him unplayable in the postseason, even with his much-touted individual defense.
Thybulle closed the year shooting 44.0% from the 3-point line in his final 15 games, and started off the playoffs making two of his first three attempts. But he was yanked from the rotation in the Toronto series and when he came back, he shot 18.2% from the arc in seven games.
The Sixers could look to get off Thybulle’s contract to create some wiggle room under the luxury tax, which looms large over the team’s offseason, and one team with known interest, according to league sources, is Chicago. Bulls GM Marc Eversley has had a fondness for Thybulle going back to early in his collegiate career at Washington, and was instrumental in pushing the Sixers to acquire him in the 2019 draft.
A deal would likely require a third team if Philadelphia’s goal is to save money under the tax, but the Bulls would be a strong suitor if Thybulle is available.
Magic Set at No. 1 in Draft
The Magic landed the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft thanks to Tuesday’s lottery, and NBA sources say there is virtually no chance they’ll trade off the pick unless it is a package that includes one of the other top-3 picks, as the Celtics did in 2017, trading to No. 3 to take Jason Tatum. That option might be available for the Magic, even if they are unlikely to accept it.
“Other than No. 1, I think just about every team is going to be willing to talk about their picks in this draft,” one executive told Heavy. That starts with No. 2 Oklahoma City and No. 3 Houston.