By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers got younger and shed more than $9 million in player costs Thursday, saying goodbye to two longtime franchise standards but getting quicker in the process.
The Lakers acquired point guard Ramon Sessions and seldom-used small forward Christian Eyenga from Cleveland for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, their first-round pick in this year’s draft and less than $1 million in cash.
They also acquired power forward Jordan Hill from Houston for Derek Fisher and the first-round pick they got from Dallas in the Lamar Odom trade.
The Lakers were seven minutes from acquiring Minnesota forward Michael Beasley, but Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor blocked an agreed-upon three-team trade right before the deadline that would have sent Fisher to Minnesota, not Houston, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The trade also would have involved Portland.
“It was whisker-close,” said the person, who did not want to be identified.
The Lakers responded by quickly sending Fisher to the Rockets, barely beating the noon deadline. They are not expected to re-sign Fisher if he takes a buyout with the Rockets.
Sessions, 25, is a quick penetrator with an unremarkable outside shot. He lost playing time to rookie Kyrie Irving, the top pick in last year’s draft, and was averaging 10.5 points and 5.2 assists but shooting only 39.8 percent.
“He’ll give us more speed and quickness in the backcourt,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “I’m hopeful that we have a more athletic defensive presence and one thing we don’t get as a team is very many easy baskets. So to get a layup or a fastbreak or a broken play or a run-out, something like that, two or three a game, that’s a big help.”
Sessions has a player option for $4.6 million next season, but Kupchak seemed confident he would remain with the team, perhaps signing a new contract with the Lakers if he opted out.
In the span of one morning, the Lakers’ roster went from an average age of 29.1 years to 27 years.
Magic Johnson, who implored the front office last month to get some deals done, seemed pleased and melancholy with Thursday’s events.
“Great job by Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak on making the Lakers better,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “With this younger team, they are now a big threat to OKC.”
He added, “Derek Fisher will remain one of the greatest Lakers leaders of all time. The city of LA will be forever grateful to him.”
There were other proclamations on Twitter, including one from a relieved Pau Gasol, the subject of a rescinded trade for Chris Paul in December and continual trade rumors since then.
“The uncertainty has come to an end!” Gasol wrote. “Happy to continue wearing the Lakers uniform! Now time to enjoy playing and go after another championship!”
And this from Sessions, also on Twitter: “Making my Lakers debut on Sunday, Can’t Wait!!!!!”
The Lakers play host to Minnesota on Friday and Utah on Sunday. Sessions and Hill will have to pass physicals for the trades to become official.
With Fisher gone, Steve Blake becomes the Lakers’ starting point guard for the time being, with Sessions expected to supplant him.
Hill, 24, has always been trying to live up to the potential that came as the eighth pick in the 2009 draft from Arizona. He drew rave reviews during training camp from Rockets Coach Kevin McHale and was penciled in as a starting center until Houston signed Samuel Dalembert right before the season. Hill is averaging five points and 4.8 rebounds.
Eyenga, a second-year player, is expected to start out with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Fisher, 37, was averaging 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in his 16th NBA season. He won five championships with the Lakers and carried a locker-room presence as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, but his stats were slipping and he was playing fewer minutes than Blake in recent games.
Kupchak acknowledged that Fisher was “an emotional favorite for a lot of people” but said Thursday’s moves were designed to make the team “younger and more athletic.”
Lakers owner Jerry Buss said in a statement, “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.”
Fisher declined to comment through a representative. Walton could not be reached for comment.
Walton, 31, fell completely out of Coach Mike Brown’s rotation, playing only nine games and averaging 1.3 points. He played on two championship teams and made two other NBA Finals appearances in nine seasons with the Lakers.
Kapono, 31, averaged two points in 27 games with the Lakers.
By making these trades, the Lakers will save $2.32 million in salary and luxury taxes this season and a weighty $6.95 million next season if Sessions decides to stay.
Walton had one more season on his contract for $5.8 million, and Fisher had one more year for $3.4 million.
Eyenga makes $1.2 million next season. Hill is on the books for $2.9 million this season before becoming a free agent in July.