Should Lakers trade for Nerlens Noel?
Why trading Julius Randle for Nerlens Noel could help the Lakers win games and better position themselves for the future
The Lakers are on the precipice of returning to prominence or sliding back into the irrelevance that damned the franchise over the last four tough years. After a promising stretch of four highly competitive efforts against the three best teams in the league, the Lakers unfortunately lost rookie point guard spark plug Lonzo Ball to a shoulder injury and three straight winnable games, raising questions about the team’s coach, chemistry, culture, and roster.
At the heart of the controversy circling the Lakers’ locker room and rumor mills is player dissatisfaction and disgruntlement with Magic Johnson’s grand plan to jettison Julius Randle, Jordan Clark, and almost everybody on the roster except for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma to free up the cap space required to sign two max contract free agents next summer. The recent team meeting didn’t seem to change anything as the Lakers came out totally unprepared to compete last night against the crosstown Clippers.
So while the Lakers aren’t going to make any moves that could get in the way of their grand plan, I think it’s becoming apparent that they do need to make some moves to shore up and better balance this year’s roster as well position the team with more options in the event that they can’t execute their grand plan for whatever reason. Above anything else, the Lakers need to finish this season strong in order to be an attractive landing spot for elite free agents.
While the Lakers have many pressing needs, the two biggest right now in my opinion are their need to improve their rim protection and resolve the issues undermining the culture and chemistry coach Luke Walton is trying to build. I believe the solution to both needs is for the Lakers to trade mercurial Julius Randle to the Dallas Mavericks in return for enigmatic center Nerlens Noel. This is one of those cases where both players just need a change of scenery.
As much as I love his motor and unique skillset, I think it’s now obvious the Lakers don’t see Randle as a starter and he doesn’t see himself as a reserve, which means the best move for everybody is to trade him as soon as possible. Noel is in a similar situation in that he’s not in the Mavs’ future plans either. Barring a midseason deal to trade for DeMarcus Cousins or Paul George, the Lakers should look to trade Randle to the Mavs straight up for Nerlens Noel.
Since Randle and Noel will both be free agents looking for starting roles and big contracts this summer, getting a chance to test drive them makes this a potential win-win trade. Randle could bloom into a dominating front court player in Dallas while Noel joining the Lakers would give them promising young talent at all five positions, which could give them another path should they change their minds or their coveted elite free agents not be available.
The addition of Nerlens Noel should immediately give the Lakers the elite shot blocker and defensive anchor they need to reestablish the defensive mindset that was a huge reason for their early success. Like Randle, Noel can protect the rim as well as switch and defend guards and wings and pick-and-rolls. Unlike Randle, Nerlens Noel has the size (7–0) and length (7–4) to be the everyday starting NBA center on a championship contending team.
While there are questions about Noel’s maturity and fit on the Lakers considering his problems in Philadelphia and Dallas, there is little question about his ability to defend. Despite declining minutes the last two years, Nerlens continues to be one of just a few centers capable of averaging 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Considering very few teams have cap space next summer, the Lakers could end up re-signing Noel to a favorable deal.
A starting lineup of Ball, Hart, Ingram, Kuzma, and Noel with a bench of Clarkson, KCP, Brewer, Nance, and Lopez could develop into a dynamic team with great chemistry that finished strong and positioned the Lakers as one of the most exciting landing spots for elite free agents. Just as importantly, the Lakers would have potential long-term starters at every position while not precluding adding one or even two max contract free agents next summer.
If trading Julius Randle is in the cards and neither Cousins or George are available midseason, then the Lakers should look to trade Randle to the Mavs for Nerlens Noel and give him a test drive as their center of the future.