Whether it was during the team’s 10-10 start or their recent 1-10 slide, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton has mostly preached patience with his young team. The Lakers’ core is still mostly an unknown to the rest of the league, showing both flashes of how great they could eventually be mixed in with the mistakes to be expected of such inexperienced players.
Those realities would appear to make the trade market for players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. less robust than many fans would expect, while also making it harder to recruit players to join them when they don’t know exactly what to expect from that group’s future.
According to Walton, however, that doesn’t really matter because neither of those avenues are the Lakers’ area of focus anyway. While speaking with Zach Lowe of ESPN, Walton made it clear he’s currently planning for a more natural rebuilding effort:
"If you grow from within, you control your own destiny," [Walton] told ESPN.com. "That's the game plan. We want to see what this group can do. We don't want to rely on anything else -- on free agency, or trades."
Those comments line up with something Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said a few weeks ago: that the Lakers aren’t in a rush to trade any of their young players until they see what they can become:
"We're fun to watch. We're very competitive. We love our coaching staff. We love our young players. We're going to have to be a little patient," Kupchak told Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. "We're going to have to do our job which is to look at opportunities that may come up in the next month or two. And if there are none, which is fine with me, because I like the young guys on the team, then during the offseason we'll have to look at opportunities.”
Both men would seem to have the right mindset here. There is no point in trading any of the Lakers’ young talent in anything but a clear win of a deal right now. Those players (even Clarkson, who just re-signed at a higher but still affordable rate) are all on relatively cheap, cost-controlled contracts that will only become more valuable as the cap continues to rise.
Additionally, trading for a star may just not be realistic right now. The new collective bargaining agreement is going to make it tougher to get teams to trade their stars when they can more easily sign them to much more lucrative and long contracts than their competitors, with Lowe reporting that teams like the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers are loathe to move on from possibly disgruntled franchise players DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George anyway.
Those same extension rules will also make it harder to pry free agents away from their incumbent teams unless they are so desperate to leave that they want to take a big financial haircut.
For right now under the new rules, Walton is right. The Lakers can’t plan for a free agency acquisition or trade that is unlikely to come. The best path forward is to continue to develop the Lakers’ young core to the point that these rules work to the team’s advantage, and it’s other franchises left disappointed that the new rules are preventing them from stealing Los Angeles’ core away.