If the Lakers are going to become the team (they say) they expect to be this season; if they’re to compete at the level their leadership says is the goal of every Lakers season; if they’re to maximize the opportunity a roster that has LeBron James and Anthony Davis on it, a trade is in order.
This isn’t really up for debate. The Lakers’ roster is not only unbalanced in real ways, to this point in the calendar it has produced an 11-16 record that has them sitting 13th in a stacked — yet strangely parity-filled — Western Conference. The Lakers have shown they are capable of playing with — and even beating! — really good teams. They’ve also shown capable of losing to any team on their schedule, whether because they simply don’t have the talent, or because the talent they do have blew a big lead.
So, while this group wants to be great, they are currently either a bad-good team or a good-bad team. And to be something more than that, they need to make a deal (or more) to restructure this group of players in a way that both infuses them with talent, but also slots everyone appropriately around LeBron and AD.
Of course, even if they do all of this successfully, it doesn’t guarantee they will reach their goals. But that’s life in the big leagues. There are never guarantees of success. Only guarantees of failure. And, I can tell you that not making any moves will almost certainly result in exactly that.
In getting that all on the record, let’s examine some potential trades that I’d argue the Lakers should be exploring or, if they were on the table, they should strongly consider making. A few caveats:
- I’m a Lakers fan writing at a Lakers website. These trades are meant to improve the Lakers. But they’re not one-sided homer jobs that swap out all the players the team wants to trade for Giannis or Luka. I’m trying to find workable deals that could make sense for both teams.
- I will try to explain my logic as best I can and will offer why I think the other team would do the deal.
- This is all just me making stuff up. None of this is “stuff I’m hearing” or anything like that. I think these deals make sense, and so I ran them in the trade machine to make sure they work.
- I’ve tried to avoid three and four-team deals because those are by nature less realistic. That said, there is one in here that I think makes sense for all parties so it made the cut.
With that, let’s make some deals.
Come on home, Kuz.
Lakers get: Kyle Kuzma
Wizards get: Patrick Beverley, Lakers 2027 1st round pick (protected top 8)
Why the Lakers do it: Kuz is one of the archetypes of forwards who can really help the Lakers. While he isn’t elite at any one thing on offense, he can do everything at a reasonably high level to the point that a random 30+ point night isn’t out of the question vs. any level of opponent.
Kuz is also a capable defender and rebounder who would allow the Lakers to not shoehorn a smaller defender onto a big wing or force LeBron into that matchup. Including the pick is the cost of doing business here, and the real battle would be over protections. I think top-8 is reasonable, but the Wizards will surely push for an unprotected pick (which will be a theme of this entire exercise). I think meeting somewhere in the middle of fully unprotected vs. something like top-15 feels right. That said, I’d be willing to go even lower with the protections in order to secure Kuz.
Why the Wizards do it: The Wizards are said to highly value Kuzma, so maybe they wouldn’t do this deal at all. But the prospect that he could opt out of the final year of his contract and walk in the summer for nothing is a real possibility the Wizards have to account for heading into the trade deadline. Combine this with the relative depth Washington has on the wing in players they have drafted, the potential hesitancy of paying him his next contract (which could be over $20 million annually in a free agent market flush with cash), and the long-term prospect of a Lakers pick that is one of the more valuable tradable picks on the market and there’s a lot of positives that could tilt the deal in the Wizards’ favor.
There’s also a relationship aspect that should not be ignored here. The Lakers have made two separate deals with the Wizards since Pelinka has been running the front office (they were part of the trade that helped the Lakers acquire AD and, of course, there was the Russell Westbrook trade). These front offices know each other well, and that sort of thing always helps grease the wheels in a trade when seeking common ground.
BONUS TRADE: There’s a version of this deal where the Lakers trade for Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis while giving up Westbrook and both their 2027 and 2029 1st rounders. The same logic from the above deal still applies, but this expanded version relies more heavily on the Wizards pivoting to a full-on rebuild — a real possibility considering their current 11-18 record and the talent at the top of the draft.
It also feels less likely, though, because of the Bradley Beal contract and the complications his super-max extension creates in fully tearing down the roster. That said, if the Lakers came with both the ‘27 and ‘29 picks — and made both either fully unprotected or lightly protected, Washington would have to listen.
If you’re wondering why the Lakers do this version of the deal, it re-balances their roster and creates higher-end depth in which multiple stronger bench units can be formed while also giving the Lakers more than one identity. They could play “small” with Kuz slotted between LeBron and AD or could play big with a Bron, AD, and Porzingis front line. Porzingis is also the ideal big to play next to both stars (either together or individually) as he can stretch the floor offensively and protect the rim defensively, thus unlocking some of the best aspects of both players' games on both sides of the ball. Add in all that Kuz brings to the table and you have a talented and deep front line while also keeping all your guard depth (sans Russ).
Bogdanovic’s audition is successful
Lakers get: Bojan Bogdanovic
Pistons get: Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn, 2027 unprotected 1st round pick
Why the Lakers do it: Bogdanovic has long been a Lakers target, and for obvious reasons. He’s one of the best shooting forwards in the league, both as a spot-up option and when on the move. He’d slot seamlessly between LeBron and AD offensively and can even be the focal point of some offensive sets when both are on the floor.
Defensively he’s not the underrated defender he was during his days in Indiana, but he’s smart and a good enough team defender that when surrounded by enough defensive talent he can be accounted for appropriately. That said, he’d be a target on that end, and this is a part of the calculus of acquiring him. The Lakers, though, would see enough offensive benefit to make this deal. The pick negotiations are trickier here and I imagine if the Lakers were actually offering an unprotected pick, the trade would have happened. So, this is surely the main sticking point.
Why the Pistons do it: Detroit surely value’s Bogie’s veteran leadership and professionalism. They extended his contract an extra season, and he’s clearly nice fit in the frontcourt flanking Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. That said, Cade is out indefinitely and the Pistons have one of the worst records in the league. Trading Bogie for a 1st round pick now when he didn’t even cost that in the deal that brought him over from the Jazz is textbook positive asset management.
There’s not likely to be a better 1st round pick on the table than the one the Lakers can offer. If — and I understand it’s a real if — the Lakers coming around to offer a fully unprotected 1st, I’d expect a deal to get done.
BONUS TRADE: There’s a version of this deal that expands to a three-team trade that ropes in the Knicks that looks like this:
Lakers get: Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish
Pistons get: Beverley, Damian Jones, 2027 Lakers 1st round pick
Knicks get: Kendrick Nunn, 2023 Bulls 2nd rounder
All of the above rationale still applies for the Lakers and Pistons, but the Lakers also get another forward who they’ve long been linked to in Reddish while the Knicks get what is, reportedly, the going rate (a “rotation” player and a 2nd rounder for Reddish) for Cam — a player who has fallen out of their rotation. This deal feels sketchy from the Knicks' side, and it’s complicated by Jones having a player option for next season, which could dissuade the Pistons part of this. So, the original deal feels like the better version of any trade that would net the Lakers Bogdanovic, but the pull of a Reddish deal is always lurking.
A big Russ trade
Lakers get: DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso
Bulls get: Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, 2027 and 2029 Lakers 1st round picks, 2023 Lakers 2nd round pick (there’s complications in the Bulls receiving a 2nd round pick in 2023 because of their tampering violations in the Lonzo Ball signing, but I’m including this here anyway)
Why the Lakers do it: It’s pretty obvious, right? The Lakers get DeRozan (who they’ve been linked to for years) for Russ. They also get a stretch-y big man who gives them the option of playing bigger for stretches of the game and a guy who can be an offensive focal point on bench units. They also get Caruso back, a proven role player who they know fits next to their star players.
Giving up both picks and making them unprotected is a steep cost, but the return of DDR — an offensive player whose shotmaking and playmaking ability can slot next to LeBron and/or AD in different lineup types offers real appeal. DeRozan also offers an alternative late-game option offensively that can burden share in ways with both stars that has the potential to keep defenses off balance.
There would be real defensive questions to work through, of course. Neither DeRozan nor Vooch are considered even net-neutral defensive players, and accounting for their weaknesses on that end would require a lot of lineup rigging. That said, Caruso helps here and the idea of playing both with a mix of AD, an engaged LeBron, and multiple guards who can defend (AC, Dennis, Austin, Troy Brown, and even Lonnie) could be enough to keep the team good enough on that end while boosting their offense a great deal. The Lakers would also project to be a better rebounding team with Vooch in the mix (he’s a career 10+ rebound per game guy for his career), a real issue that needs resolving if the team is actually going to compete for anything of substance.
Why the Bulls do it: I’ll be honest, I can easily see a world where this deal gets laughed at from Chicago’s side. DeRozan played like an MVP candidate last season and he’s been one of their few bright spots over the last several years. Add in Caruso — who is a valuable role player — and it might be too much to give up even with the picks coming back.
That said, the Bulls are currently 11-16 and have little to no upward mobility until Lonzo returns, which is in January at the earliest. Can they hold on and remain competitive until then when they’ve not shown that to this point in the season? Additionally, because of the Vucevic trade, Orlando owns the Bulls’ 1st round pick if it falls outside the top-4, so they have incentive to tank in the hopes of retaining their pick considering the talent at the top of it (hello Wemby and Scoot).
Also, Vucevic is a free agent this summer and while an extension or re-signing him is always a possibility, the potential of folding him into a DeRozan deal while recouping some of the draft capital they’ve lost in recent deals could entice. I will say, this feels like a deal that would come closer to the actual trade deadline in February (if at all), but I don’t think it’s a stretch for the Bulls to pivot towards this type of in-season rebuild.
Again, though, I could also see the Bulls thinking this is too much to give up regardless of the draft capital they’d receive. The Bulls just went through an extended period of irrelevancy when the Rose, Butler, Noah and Deng-era teams fell off, and voluntarily returning to being bad when you’re in a large market with those fans is a bitter pill to swallow.
I’m going to be honest, I have a bunch of other trade ideas of various sizes and complexities that I’d be more than willing to do. From deals that would send Russ to Charlotte to ones that would bring Naz Reid in from the T’Wolves, think there are plenty of ways to build out deals that not only help the Lakers, but make sense for the other team involved.
That said, making trades in the NBA is hard. And there’s a reason why the Lakers haven’t made a deal yet this season, even as the entire NBA seems to be waiting for them to do something. That said, now that Dec. 15 is here, more teams will be engaged in talks and more options will be on the table.
I only ask that if it’s one of the deals I mention above, that I get my royalties.