In trading Talen Horton-Tucker to Utah for Patrick Beverley, the Lakers in essence admitted to the sunk cost he became almost as soon as they unnecessarily chose him over Alex Caruso. Now, will only a few weeks left of the offseason, Rob Pelinka will have to address his next almost immediately harmful decision: Russell Westbrook.
At last year’s trade deadline, Pelinka and Lakers brass chose to kick the can down the road to eventually make a decision on Westbrook once they’d have more assets to work with. This launched a hilarious news cycle of subtweets, finger pointing and even t-shirt admiration as the Lakers were essentially tanking a season in which LeBron James was somehow still good enough to lead the league in scoring at 38 years old.
Now, after acquiring Beverley, Pelinka can once again try to convince Jeanie Buss to stick with his vision and ask her to remain patient through another season of mediocrity in the hopes of landing an impact player next summer in free agency. Hell, he could even send Westbrook home if he’s once again as difficult on and off the court as he was last year.
He just, you know, shouldn’t.
And look, holding onto those first-rounders in 2027 and 2029, plus whichever pick they wind up this year (the lesser between theirs and the New Orleans Pelicans’), which they can move after drafting a player in that spot would offer some flexibility. In most situations, that would be a perfectly viable and understandable path forward.
But as James nears 40 and the oft-injured Anthony Davis nears 30, the reported trade for Indiana’s Myles Turner and perpetual trade target Buddy Hield makes endlessly more sense if the point is to optimize the team’s chance at title competition.
James is on the verge of what will be the great 20th season in NBA history and by no means looks to be heading towards any precipitous decline, but how long are the Lakers willing to test his ability to stave off Father Time?
Yes, he was good enough to lead the league in scoring in the games he played, but he didn’t add another scoring title to his resumé because he missed 26 games. For the third time in his four years as a Laker, he didn’t crack 60 total starts.
The signs are clearly there that he’s slowing down, even given how incredible he looks when he is available, so the idea of once again tempting fate by trudging through another ugly season for a potential signing when they won’t even have max money available just doesn’t seem feasible.
And sure, adding Turner and Hield to Beverley and the rest of their additions this summer probably doesn’t make the Lakers bonafide title contenders. There are still plenty of questions that will need answering over the course of the season. But they would give James and Davis a puncher’s chance, which should’ve been the goal of this offseason all along.
Both paths forward feature plenty of risk. The Lakers could make this trade and once again go through another injury-riddled season. They could trade for Turner and find out him and Davis don’t fit together in the front court. Hield’s incredible shooting might not be enough to make up for his poor defense. Past mistakes have worn down any notion of margin for error.
But what the Lakers really can’t risk is starting this season devoid of hope. We know how this will go if Westbrook is on the team. When his agent tried to convince him to go along with Darvin Ham’s vision for how to make it work, he fired his agent. Sure, there could be light at the end of the tunnel in the form of 2023’s free agent class. But if they wait too long, that light could just as easily be the freight train that is time’s inevitability.
This week on “The Hook,” Aaron and I discussed these two paths facing the Lakers, more detail on the Patrick Beverley trade, Aaron’s fear of the ocean and plenty more.
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