At each of the last two NBA trade deadlines, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers made some kind of move with the postseason out of reach. This year, with the playoffs well within their grasp, the team’s goals at the deadline are quite different.
Problem is: Those goals extend well beyond this season specifically, thus limiting the types of deals they could make in an already thin seller’s market. Let’s start by looking at the buyers and sellers.
Look at the playoff pictures heading into Tuesday night’s games. There are only, like, seven teams total that are realistically completely out of the playoff picture. This means that, unless teams that are competing against each other for a place in the postseason are willing to risk making an opponent better in a deal, 23 teams are going to be looking to trade with only seven teams.
Basically, the market is going to be incredibly crowded.
Based on that line of thinking, any team that does hope make a trade with one of those seven teams in the next couple weeks or so (remember, the NBA moved up the trade deadline to Feb. 7) will probably wind up having to overpay. Hold onto this thought for a second.
The Lakers would obviously love to improve their roster in the next couple weeks, but not if it costs any of the opportunity to do so over the next couple years. They can’t take on any money extending beyond this season if they want to be able to sign a max-level free agent this summer. They also probably can’t — or at least won’t — offer up first-round picks as they’ll be needed for an Anthony Davis trade should he be made available.
So basically, the Lakers are hoping they can utilize only their expiring contracts, maybe some second-round picks or — depending on the player — maybe one of their lower-tier younger guys (Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Svi Mykhailiuk, etc.) to acquire a player who isn’t a lateral move and doesn’t have any money owed to him beyond this season, but is still impactful enough to make it worth giving up one of those guys.
As I mentioned earlier, because of the competition among the many teams that think they can make the playoffs, the Lakers, who have tied one hand behind their back with the aforementioned parameters, would have to potentially overpay on top of all the other complications teams run into at the trade deadline.
Let’s also take a look at the needs across the roster. Because Lonzo Ball is out for the next four-to-six weeks and Rajon Rondo hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season, the Lakers couple probably use a point guard. This roster is also devoid of guys who can create their own shot outside of LeBron James. Oh, and shooting. This squad needs shooters.
Wait a second... You know who can create his shot and won’t cost much? CARMELOOOOOO ANTH-… *punches self*
But speaking of shooting in a serious way, while moving Kentavious Caldwell-Pope makes sense in terms of salary ballast, he’s also one of the Lakers’ most consistent deep threats and has been used as their primary perimeter defender. So any deal that he’s involved holds serious risk of backfiring.
And that’s before you get to the no-trade clause he earned because he signed a one-year deal with early Bird rights, and the fact that he’s not likely to waive it to go just anywhere, because not every situation would be as good as this one for him.
If all that wasn’t difficult enough, Caldwell-Pope also has a trade kicker worth $1.8 million, though that’s easier to work with. Finally, it also must be noted that he shares an agent with James, although it’s not totally clear how that would influence things.
I’m not saying finding the right deal will be impossible here. This all was an exercise to show just how tricky that is going to be given everything going on. This roster still has some fairly obvious holes to fill, and the Western Conference is so tough that standing idly by is almost a risk in and of itself. And you can guarantee despite everything I detailed that the rumor cycle is going to be insane because, well, LeBron is a Laker, and that’s great for SEO.
But how much do the names that would realistically be coming back even impact the Lakers? We know who would probably be sent out, (Lance Stephenson, maybe Michael Beasley, etc.) but who would they net? Jeremy Lin will garner attention. Terrence Ross could make sense, but he’d likely cost the Lakers Caldwell-Pope. Dewayne Dedmon could offer some spacing. Lower down the market, you have guys like Trey Burke or Wayne Ellington. Those are the kinds of targets the Lakers might have available, and any higher hopes get unrealistic quickly.
To a certain extent, however, merely getting and staying healthy can be seen as impactful as any move the Lakers could make. That, combined potentially with some smaller trade or buyout signing — and not a blockbuster trade — is probably the most realistic path forward for a Lakers organization starved of recent postseason experience. As frustrating as this season has been at times, a trade just probably isn’t a realistic answer here.
On today’s The Lake Show, Harrison and I discussed some of these topics further. For that and more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.