The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to be able to distance themselves from NBA trade rumors and speculation this season, or throughout the LeBron James era. This is what they signed up for. If anything, as the season rolls along, the trade speculation will become more specific about names and targets with the added context of how young players like Brandon Ingram have looked alongside James.
In his latest column, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report asked whether Ingram should be seen as an on-court partner of James, or as an asset to land him that kind of player. It seems the league thinks it will be the latter.
Kuzma may have taken the mantle of the Lakers’ second star for now, but that won’t stop the team from seeking an established All-Star. Can Ingram adjust to being a third or even fourth scoring option?
”[Ingram] will probably be traded at some point, whether it’s for a second or third star,” another NBA front-office executive said.
In some cases, Ingram might actually fit better as the team’s tertiary scoring option, though how he might handle that demotion will go a long way in deciding whether he finds a role that best suits him on this roster.
Still, the question begs asking: What would an Ingram trade look like and when might it happen?
“I think they wait until the summer to look into a big move involving a player like Ingram,” the agent said. “That gives them more time to get the best deal.”
An NBA executive agreed, calling Ingram the “1-A in a package for a big-time player [after the season],” and suggested names like Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards or CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers for Los Angeles. “Hart or Kuzma would probably need to be the 1-B.”
As things currently stand, the Lakers are winning more often than they lose, and have made significant progress throughout the season. This year was always going to be an audition to find out who among the team’s young core fits best with James, while also maintaining the trade value of those who don’t. So far, that approach to the season has paid dividends.
Pincus’ sources mention waiting until the summer so as to find the best deal. Waiting for the offseason also allows the Lakers to backchannel and figure out their chances at landing a max-level free agent. So long as they feel confident they’re at least in the running for guys like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, they aren’t going to take themselves out of that race with a midseason trade they could always make in a matter of months anyway.
Kuzma was probably always going to fit better alongside James than Ingram has. Kuzma is a willing 3-point shooter and doesn’t usually require very much time on the ball to score. You can’t say either of those things about Ingram, and Kuzma’s recent strides defensively have helped make that “choice” (for lack of a better term) even easier.
Ideally, both guys figure things out and fit into the rotation more seamlessly than they have thus far, but if not, it makes sense that Ingram — the former No. 2 overall pick and younger player — could net the Lakers more than Kuzma could at this point.
Most importantly, though, as Pincus and his sources point out, the Lakers have time — and they seem to have indicated they’re willing to use all of it if doing so sets themselves up to make this entire situation work as well as it can.