When the season began, the Los Angeles Lakers leaked their intent to hold off on making any trades until around Thanksgiving or the 20-game mark. The idea was to evaluate the team as it existed on opening night and make a more informed decision about how many, if any, future assets to invest in improving the current group. Well, the 20-game mark arrived Wednesday. No trades have been made, and fans are starting to get antsy.
But according to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, the Lakers are operating under a new timeline. Now, the Lakers are awaiting Dec. 15, the date on which most players who signed free-agent contracts last offseason can be traded. When that day comes, the Lakers are reportedly weighing three different possible trade scenarios:
- The obvious: Russell Westbrook plus one or both of their tradable first-round picks (2027 and 2029) for a star or package of multiple role players.
- Some combination of Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and picks for role players who better fill their immediate needs of shooting and size.
- Two separate trades. One would involve Beverley, Nunn and one first-round pick. The other would involve Westbrook and the other pick.
As of right now, the Lakers are leaning towards option No. 2 or 3, according to Buha. However, the team’s upcoming six-game road trip will play a part in determining how much the Lakers are willing to give up for the sake of immediate improvement. Those six games are against some of the best teams in the NBA: the Lakers will face the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors, Wizards, Pistons and 76ers while they are away. At 8-12, the Lakers likely need to win at least half of those games to keep pace in the Western Conference.
The first path is the one the Lakers have failed to follow since the offseason. So far as we know, the closest they’ve come to that sort of trade is their lengthy flirtation with the Indiana Pacers over Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. No stars, to this point, are known to have become available at the price the Lakers are capable of paying. If they have decided against making the Indiana trade, or the Pacers have taken it off of the table, then it makes sense that they would move on to option No. 2 or 3.
The second option is the simplest. Beverley and Nunn are two of their only role players making more than the minimum. Both are on expiring deals. When combined together, they should be able to net the Lakers a decent player on a bad contract even without including draft capital. If they attach a pick, they could turn those two into a good starter. Nunn and Beverley have both underperformed this season, so neither would be particularly missed.
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The third option is a combination of the two. In fact, one might argue that it would yield the best overall return. More teams will be open to taking on Westbrook’s contract at the trade deadline, when it only has roughly two remaining months and most of the cash balance has been paid. The downside to this approach, though, would be in developing continuity. The Lakers have needed these first 20 games to learn how to play together. Make a major trade now and that continuity is disrupted. By the time the team has jelled, yet another trade would force the team to start from square one yet again.
There is also the possibility that the Lakers struggle on their upcoming road trip and the team simply decides not to make any deal at all. This would contradict Rob Pelinka’s promise to be a caretaker of LeBron James’ legacy, but general managers are not bound by what they say at press conferences. For now, the Lakers will allow the next two weeks to play out and make a decision from there.