A flurry of activity on trade deadline day in the NBA brought a new look to the Lakers heading into the final 23 games of the season, with the acquisition of point guard Ramon Sessions from Cleveland and departure of Derek Fisher to Houston headlining two moves directed by general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Joining Sessions from the Cavs is forward Christian Eyenga, in exchange for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, a protected 2012 first round draft pick and other considerations. To get Fisher and the 2012 first pick L.A. received from Dallas in the Lamar Odom trade, the Rockets sent big man Jordan Hill to Los Angeles.
Financial considerations were certainly kept in mind, as Kupchak explained, given the increasing luxury tax penalties negotiated into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the GM was very pleased to keep the team’s three stars – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum – in tact while still addressing a primary need.
Sessions and Hill will take physicals on Friday morning, and are expected to be available to Mike Brown should he choose to use either against the Timberwolves on Friday night.
Sessions excelled as the backup to the leading Rookie of the Year candidate Kyrie Irving, averaging 10.5 points and 5.2 assists in just 24.5 minutes per game this season. The Nevada product was even more productive in four starts, averaging 17.8 points and 11.0 assists, and has career averages of 14.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 89 starts.
“We think Ramon (will) make a more immediate impact (than Eyenga or Hill),” said Kupchak. “Despite Derek’s presence, we felt we needed more speed and quickness in the backcourt. There’s nobody we’d trust with an open shot (more) than Derek Fisher, but we felt from a defensive point of view and giving us some speed and quickness (the move fit).”
The 6-3 guard spent his first three seasons in Milwaukee and Minnesota before being traded to the Cavs prior to the 2010-11 season. A second round pick, Sessions didn’t appear in a game for Milwaukee in the first five months of his rookie year, but immediately showed his value while averaging 11.5 points and 11.3 assists in April of 2008, including a 20-point, 24-assist effort against Chicago.
Sessions gives the Lakers something they did not have on the roster, much coveted by Kupchak and executive VP, player personnel Jim Buss: a slashing point guard adept at penetrating and creating offense either for himself or for teammates. Sessions has also improved his three-point shooting markedly this season, hitting 41.9 percent from behind the arc to bump his career average up to 29.3 percent.
Kupchak thinks that the moves put the Lakers in a better position to make a run at another championship despite losing Fisher’s leadership and experience.
“If we can get over the emotional toll, which I believe we will, we have the potential to be a better team,” he said.
Since Sessions is a bigger point guard, Kupchak acknowledged that he can also be used at the two-guard spot if Mike Brown would like, as both he and Steve Blake can defend most NBA shooting guards. It will be up to Brown to decide who starts, though it’s presumed that Blake will do so on Friday.
Hill, a 6-10 forward/center in his third year out of Arizona, was originally selected by New York with the eighth overall pick in 2009. Acquired by Houston as part of a three-team, nine-player trade midway through his rookie season, Hill has averaged 5.4 points and 4.2 boards in 151 career NBA games (18 starts) in 14.7 minutes. He averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 boards in three college seasons, and in games this year in which he’s played at least 15 minutes, he’s produced 7.9 points and 7.5 boards.
Eyenga was nabbed with the 30th pick by Cleveland in the 2009 Draft, and has played in six games this season with an average of 13.8 minutes per contest towards 1.5 points and 2.0 rebounds. The 6-7 forward played in 44 games as a rookie with the Cavaliers, averaging 6.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 21.5 minutes.
While the Lakers are excited about what Sessions in particular might add, the organization expressed how much it will miss Fisher, the team’s emotional leader that came up huge so many times throughout his 13 seasons wearing Purple and Gold.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to Derek for everything he has meant to this organization over the years,” said Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. “Few who have worn the Lakers uniform have done so with as much class as Derek, both on the court and in the community. From his famous 0.4 shot in San Antonio to his clutch performances in the Finals against Orlando and Boston when it mattered most, Derek will always hold a special place not only in my heart, but in the heart of Lakers fans everywhere.”
Kupchak addressed the difficulty of trading Fisher, with whom he hopes to speak on Friday after an attempt on Thursday morning got Fisher’s voicemail, and also took care to thank Walton for his years of service to the Lakers, highlighted by his contributions to the back-to-back championships and consistently positive presence in the locker room.
Kupchak said it’s up to the remaining players and Brown to fill the leadership position Fisher so adeptly held. He added that giving up the two draft picks was less of a concern since such a player was unlikely to be better than Sessions.
DRAFT PICK DETAILS
The pick L.A. sent to Cleveland is lottery protected for the 2012 draft; in other words, if the Lakers miss the playoffs this season, they’d keep their pick in 2012, and Cleveland would get L.A.’s 2014 pick. Furthermore, the Lakers agreed to swap a lottery protected first round pick in 2013 with Cleveland for either the Cavs’ pick, Miami’s 2013 pick or Sacramento’s 2013 pick, all owned by the Cavs, at Cleveland’s discretion. In short, if L.A.’s pick is better (lower) than that of any of those three teams, the Cavs can swap with the Lakers.
The first rounder the Lakers sent to Houston came from Dallas in the preseason Lamar Odom trade, and is protected through 20 picks for six years.