Sitting at just 7-12 entering their Wednesday night matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s not exactly breaking news that the Los Angeles Lakers may make a trade or two this season. After all, the team has been linked to various potential Russell Westbrook trades for going on a calendar year.
But just how large of a shakeup they are willing to undergo is reportedly something the team is still debating internally. Jovan Buha of The Athletic told Allen Sliwa on the latest episode of ESPN LA’s “Lakers Talk” radio show that the front office may actually be leaning towards smaller deals involving the mid-sized contracts of Kendrick Nunn and Patrick Beverley rather than trying to construct a Westbrook package (emphasis mine):
“We know Russell Westbrook has been in a bunch of trade rumors. The team is still actively trying to trade him, though they’re unsure of what they want to do with their picks. But the other three guys (beyond LeBron and AD on non-minimum contracts), Lonnie Walker has been one of the steals of the offseason and has really thrived in that starting shooting guard role... Kendrick Nunn has not lived up to his contract, and has been really inconsistent this season. And Patrick Beverley has still been solid defensively but is averaging career-lows in points, 3-point percentage, and has just really been a non-factor offensively.
“So I think looking at Pat and Kendrick specifically, those have been the two names that have come up a lot in potential deals where the Lakers could package those guys together and get to about $20 million combined and then you throw in a first-round pick potentially, and all of sudden there are a lot of options where you get upwards of $22-25 million back in salary and throw in a pick and maybe you get a high-level starter or two coming back the other way if its a rebuilding team that’s looking to shed some salary.”
Now, why would the Lakers lean in that direction rather than moving Westbrook and potentially having higher-priced, theoretically better players coming back that would further improve this group’s upside than whatever they could get for Nunn and/or Beverley? Buha explained how the team is evaluating that, and reported that they are leaning towards making the smaller change (again, emphasis mine):
“For the Lakers, right now they’re looking at ‘do we make a smaller move where we move a Pat, move a Kendrick, we move both with potentially a pick and just keep Russ off the bench as our Sixth Man and get a wing in here, get another big and upgrade that way? Or do we do a big move with Russ that’s probably going to require attaching two picks and really kind of tear this thing down in terms of salary and bring in a Myles Turner and Buddy Hield or someone else?’ So I think right now they’re weighing that. They’re leaning more towards a smaller move of a Pat or a Kendrick, or both, but I think really the next 5-10 games are going to determine what they do.
“Does this team show something on this six-game East coast trip? Do they go 4-2 and beat a Philly or Toronto and show some life that they haven’t really shown against a better team? They’re 2-12 against teams above .500 right now, and that’s just not going to get it done moving forward. They have to get some impressive wins, beat some teams above .500 and show that this team has a pulse for them (the front office) to invest in trading a first-round pick or two. If not, I think they’ll look for a smaller move that still upgrades the roster and gives them more of a chance, but isn’t going all-in the way that I think you’d have to be more confident in this core (to do).”
It is worth remembering that Jovan also reported in the preseason on our podcast that this type of towel throwing-in was potentially on the table, that the front office may just take their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks and go home if this roster didn’t convince them it was worth upgrading upon, so this line of thinking has been consistent from the organization (and it’s also led to the constant kicking the proverbial can down the road of when they can make a trade or judge this team).
There are arguments to be made in all directions, for a smaller deal or a larger one, or even none at all. We have been having them in our articles, comments sections, social media account replies and podcasts for nearly a calendar year now, and it’s safe to assume I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about what the best path forward is at the bottom of this article. But it is worth remembering that — as my vocal doppelganger Darius Soriano wrote at this very website — the Lakers have more draft picks than you’ve been led to believe. There is a middle ground here where they give up both of their currently tradeable first-round picks and are still not asset bereft for approximately the next decade.
However, for a variety of reasons, it does not seem like the Lakers see things the same way. Is that because they want to save cap space for this summer? Because they don’t want to pay the repeater tax? Because they want to have three tradeable first-round picks this summer to make an even bigger swing? Because they just don’t believe in the LeBron James/Anthony Davis duo anymore? Some other reason? We don’t know. But what we do know is that, at least so far, they do not see this team as worth mortgaging part of their future to upgrade. That’s what their (in)actions have told us. If they thought this team was, say, a Myles Turner and Buddy Hield away, those guys would already be Lakers. It’s clear that the front office doesn’t see anything that’s been reported as a salve for their current woes.
Whether this group can change their mind about its upside is anyone’s guess, but for now, it’s safer to bet on the Lakers making a small move that marginally improves them and at least gives the appearance of trying (while giving up very little), rather than a wholesale, all-in change at midseason.