The Lakers front office has had a measured approach to start the season.
After trying and failing to find a suitable Russell Westbrook trade during the offseason, the Lakers entered the 2022-23 campaign determined to evaluate the current roster as is, at least for the first 20 or so games. The theory was that the rest of the NBA landscape would clarify itself during that time, and more tankers would emerge, giving the Lakers more trade options at that juncture.
In the meantime, the Lakers have been trying to find a suitable role for Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles, and there are positive early returns for the Russell Westbrook Sixth Man gambit. However, the Lakers are still 1-5 with the 25th-ranked net rating in the NBA, and their schedule doesn’t ease up any time soon.
That means that the clarification that the Lakers seek could come on their end, something Jovan Buha of The Athletic posited on The Anthony Irwin Show this week:
“I think the disaster scenario where the Lakers go 5-20 at the 25-game mark, like that is maybe a scenario, from my understanding, that they would potentially pull the plug on it and just be like okay, we’re gonna stand pat and this roster is what it is. This is kind of like a lost season, and there’s really no point in going for it when we’re this far behind.”
Surely everyone reading this is perfectly calm at “Lakers” and “disaster scenario” appearing in the same sentence.
There is nothing for this team to gain by tanking since the New Orleans Pelicans have the right to swap their first-round pick with the Lakers this year. But it also doesn’t make a ton of sense to give up two future firsts just for this group to claw its way into the play-in tournament. And the Lakers have to be judicious about their prospects this season considering the high cost of improvement.
The front office reportedly has had ongoing conversations about a trade, and Buha said that his understanding is “that they have kind of marked that Thanksgiving-ish timeline as (a) realistic time to strike a deal or really ramp up the conversation.” But if they decide this team isn’t worth improving, that’s an admission of failure about a quarter of the way through the season, and it’s another strike against the team’s brass for letting the year begin with a mismatched roster.
The only way for the Lakers to realistically salvage this season is with a trade, but that could severely hamper the franchise moving forward. And if they thought their leverage would improve 20 games into the year, they instead appear to be heading closer toward a disaster scenario.
The 2022-23 Lakers season isn’t lost just yet. Planning for the worst is one way of thinking ahead, but it stings to think that the front office is once again bracing for failure instead of finding a way out of this mess.