Rob Pelinka had all summer to make a trade that would reshape the Lakers' roster by sending away Russell Westbrook and bringing back multiple players. He obviously didn’t find one to his liking and has made it clear since that the front office has to be careful with such a deal because they only have one chance to get it done.
There have been rumors of Westbrook deals that the Lakers could pursue or did pursue during the offseason, such as a trade for Kyrie Irving, a trade with Pacers centered around Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, and a three-team option with the Knicks and Jazz if those two clubs made a deal for Donovan Mitchell.
Earlier this week, Tony Jones, the Utah Jazz beat writer for The Athletic, suggested that another Jazz deal was on the table for the Lakers, but they rejected it. Jones wrote on Twitter that Utah was willing to deal Bojan Bogdanović, Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and a 2023 first-round pick to the Lakers in exchange for Westbrook and L.A.’s 2027 and 2029 first-rounders.
It’s a little dispiriting to look at that potential deal after the Jazz looked like an offensive juggernaut in their victorious opener (Conley and Gay combined for 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting) and Bogdanović was Detroit’s leading scorer with 24 points, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range, in the Pistons’ win. But that’s only one game, and it’s worth remembering that in last year’s playoffs — and the season before, too — Bogdanović couldn’t defend a traffic cone, Conley looked cooked, and Gay didn’t play any minutes.
Conley (35 years old) and Gay (36) also have contracts that extend into next season (about $21 million guaranteed in total) that would have killed any cap space aspirations for the Lakers in the summer of 2023.
Furthermore, Jones doesn’t specify what 2023 first-pound pick would be coming to Los Angeles. It’s fair to assume it’s not Utah’s own pick, because — last night’s result notwithstanding — the Jazz are very much in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. As a result, it could have been Minnesota’s 2023 first, or the worst of Houston, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia’s picks. Considering the high expectations for the Wolves and Sixers this year, that selection would be likely to land in the 20s.
While it’s easy to see Pelinka’s rationale for not wanting to make that trade — and again, there’s no confirmation that the Lakers ever received that exact offer — there’s also a relatively convincing case to be made in favor of the deal.
Conley and Gay’s ages matter less when LeBron James is already 37 and the window is now. A low-usage guard who’s made 38 percent of his 3-pointers for his career seems like a natural fit with the King, and Gay is at least a 6’8 wing who is mobile, even if the Lakers struggled with players of his generation a year ago. Bogdanović is an outstanding offensive player who spreads the floor the minute he steps on the court.
To get a first-round pick back also gives the Lakers some flexibility in deals this season and in the upcoming offseason, even if it projects to be a late first, because it’s one more trade asset. So yes, the Lakers would lose their two best future trade chips by parting ways with the 2027 and 2029 firsts, but at least they’d one in return. The Lakers could also have just drafted a player at that spot and taken advantage of their successful scouting department.
The Lakers have been pretty transparent that they don’t want to make a trade for the sake of making a trade — they only want to do a deal that puts them back in championship contention, and this trio of veterans wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that. However, sitting on the current Lakers roster also makes little sense and will be increasingly hard to defend the longer the team maintains its current level of play.