The Lakers loss on Wednesday to a depleted Blazers team felt like a team that had given up, and was ready for change. A blockbuster trade, a trade on the margins, a head coaching change, the specifics didn’t matter: It was just clear something needed to be changed.
General manager Rob Pelinka’s response at Thursday’s trade deadline? Standing pat.
It was a controversial and unexpected move — or lack of one — by Pelinka. The Lakers’ problems run so deep that the calculus made by Pelinka, Kurt Rambis and the rest of the front office that no marginal trade or coaching change could fix it. And with the team set on not adding a draft pick to unload Russell Westbrook, the end result was the Lakers doing nothing on Thursday.
Following the noon Pacific deadline, Pelinka held a conference call with the team’s beat writers in which he addressed his decision to not make any moves. As has been the case throughout his tenure, Pelinka had an open dialogue with LeBron James and Anthony Davis throughout the day.
Pelinka, as has been his standard operating procedure since L.A. signed LeBron James and traded for Anthony Davis with him in the front office, said the two captains were consulted on potential deals on Thursday. The pair understood the moves L.A. was unable to make and the deals the team chose to walk away from because of the asking price, according to the GM.
“You can’t force another team to present yourself with a deal that is going to make your team be better. That’s up to them,” Pelinka said. “And throughout this process we had different things we looked at and like I’ve done in the past had conversations with LeBron and Anthony about it and I would say there’s alignment here. And that’s all that matters.”
As much as it would have been nice for the Lakers to make a trade, their lack of assets made it nearly impossible. Talen Horton-Tucker has struggled, Kendrick Nunn hasn’t played and who even knows if any of us are going to live until 2027, much less be around to select a current eighth grader in the first round of that draft.
Because of that, the team simply couldn’t find a way to muster up enough value to attract interest of other teams, as Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register noted.
Pelinka acknowledged that the Lakers had a limited war chest, including a dearth of mid-range salaries, that made finding workable deals difficult. But he also said it didn’t stop them from trying to dig up something.
“You can only work with the cards you have and those are the cards we had and it still allowed us to explore multiple things,” he said. “I think last year at the trade deadline we didn’t make any drastic moves and we had more fungible pieces there. So it’s not just about the pieces you have.”
My sense of the much-discussed Westbrook-Wall swap was that the Lakers viewed Wall as having the same on-court issues with LeBron as Russ, and that it wouldn’t solve enough of those issues — and definitely not enough to include the 2027 first. https://t.co/QBxQjPhUav— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 11, 2022
Despite their limitations, the Lakers at least tried to do something, Pelinka said. As much as they could be, the team tried to make a deal across the league, as evidenced by the number of reported deals that fell through. Simply put, the Lakers weren’t going to make a deal for the sake of making a deal if they felt it would make them worse in the long term.
“We were aggressive in a lot of conversations trying to improve the team – we always want to put this team in the best position to win a championship,” L.A.’s VP of Basketball Ops said on a conference call. “But ultimately we didn’t find a deal that had a net positive effect for the short term success of the team and the long term, and those are both things we consider.”
“It’s important to remember that the metric of success here is, you win a championship or we don’t,” Pelinka explained. “There’s no middle ground. We have to be on a pathway to put this team in a position to try and compete for and win championships. That takes the support of one another, and I know that’s going on internally despite what others might say.
“When it comes to finding success when a team is not winning, I think the most important action is for everyone to look in the mirror and be better. That includes the front office, it includes the coaches, it includes the players.”
And as frustrating as it may feel in this current moment, Pelinka’s decision likely is the right one. This Lakers team’s issues are far-reaching, and far greater than can be fixed at the trade deadline, at least in the Lakers situation. Pelinka weighed the cost of trying to marginally improve the team and put small band-aids over major cracks, and decided it wasn’t worth losing some of their long-term flexibility.
And in reality, any of the names mentioned in deals that fell apart like Chris Boucher, Khem Birch or Cam Reddish would not have altered the trajectory of the Lakers season. This is a team seemingly doomed to fail, and making a panic move at the deadline to try to fix a sunk cost would have only further hurt them this summer and moving forward as they try to undo what went so wildly wrong this year.