The Los Angeles Lakers spent most of the last week trying to trade for Trevor Ariza, but in my not acquiring him, and instead watching the Phoenix Suns ship him to the Washington Wizards, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have once again emphasized that while the team wants to win now with LeBron James, they aren’t going to get leveraged into overpaying for small talent upgrades over it.
According to Adrian Wojnarowksi of ESPN, the Lakers held to reports that they weren’t going to include any of their young core — which presumably includes at least Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, and to some degree also probably Moe Wagner, Svi Mykhailiuk and Isaac Bonga — in exchange for a 33-year-old wing who would help them win now, but not necessarily later:
Once that deal fell apart, the Suns re-engaged with the Los Angeles Lakers on trade talks for Ariza, league sources said. Suns owner Robert Sarver and interim general manager James Jones were working with Ariza’s agent, Aaron Mintz, on brokering a deal with the Lakers, but it never materialized. The Lakers were unwilling to include one of their core young players in the trade, and the Suns ultimately moved back to complete a deal with the Wizards.
This is a promising sign for Johnson and Pelinka, as there was some fear that with James in tow the team could be pushed into giving up young assets in exchange for veterans their star can trust in every game.
Now, this doesn’t mean those young players are necessarily safe, as reports have indicated the Lakers would include them in a trade for a superstar, but in not dealing for Ariza, they put their money where their mouth is. If the team has a chance to go get Anthony Davis and it takes, say, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and a few other picks or players to do it, they absolutely should. But they won’t be able to complete such deals if they toss a young piece at every team offering a marginal upgrade to them.
Ariza would have instantly bolstered the Lakers with the type of long, rangy defender they don’t really have on their roster (outside of Brandon Ingram), while also infusing the team with a dose of shooting, but that’s not worth giving up even one of their lower-tier prospect for. Not when it’s just half a season of those things in a non-title-contending year, and when they’re coming from a player on the wrong side of 30 who is already beginning to show signs of age and likely will be even less useful in the future.
The Lakers have had their timeline accelerated, but they can’t let that make them impatient. In not letting Phoenix leverage them, and holding the course while waiting for their next chance at a star, they showed the right type of balanced decision making they’ll need to be successful for James’ tenure and beyond.
Eventually the Lakers will come to a fork in the road where they have to choose between keeping some young talent or raising the roster’s ceiling, but for now they were just making the correct choice between a rickety wooden bridge over a chasm that was missing a few boards, and a fully constructed freeway overpass. Sure, both paths might have gotten them where they want to go, but one was a hell of a lot smarter and safer. We’ll see if the Lakers continue on it as we get closer to the trade deadline on Feb. 7.