At every turn, whenever the conversation about a potential trade the Lakers might make comes up, the far too pervasive response through leaks has been that they would not make a trade that does not make them a title contender. It’s fine in theory, but in practice, is highly subjective and let’s those responsible for fixing this flawed roster off the hook.
Look across the NBA. There is no juggernaut. Kevin Durant is no longer on the Warriors. On any given night, any team is more than capable of not just losing, but getting blown out by almost anyone they might be facing. Hell, the Lakers just Wednesday night beat a Miami Heat team that was a shot away from the finals last season without LeBron James and Antony Davis.
So when this leaked messaging gets repeated brainlessly, look a little closer at the situation. Again, all Rob Pelinka and the front office has to do is surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with enough talent to have a puncher’s chance in any series they go into. Inherently, so long as both those guys are healthy, that damn near is always going to be the case anyway.
No, given the state of the NBA, this popular leak comes off more as an excuse not to do their jobs than it is some viable explanation of reality as it’s currently presented.
And sure, at any time, the Golden State Warriors could cash in some of their young chips and once again sit head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Thing is: They don’t, by all reports, seem interested in doing that. And even if they did, Durant isn’t available the way he might’ve been over the summer. And as the Lakers have found out, that ground-shifting piece capable of reshaping the title picture just isn’t available right now, so everyone is forced to operate in the margins.
Ironically, this was what Pelinka was supposed to bring to the table. When Jeanie Buss originally paired him with Magic Johnson (after Kobe Bryant turned her down), Johnson was going to be put in charge of the macro-level stuff with Pelinka more focused on the mortar type moves. With James and Davis already on the roster, it’s long past time for Pelinka to show that he’s actually good at what he was supposed to do or, at the very least, bring someone into the front office who can backfill the position he left when Johnson stepped away to focus on tweeting.
If some team existed who the Lakers just had no chance at competing with, fine. It would obviously be a bummer to chalk up another season to a bad summer and not keep pushing chips in on a bad bet, but that simply isn’t the case. There is no dynastic presence in the NBA right now. The Lakers aren’t so far away as to consider themselves beyond saving. As I’m writing this, the reigning champion Warriors just lost to the hapless Detroit Pistons at the buzzer at home.
Even if the Lakers are reluctant to move Russell Westbrook because teams are requiring them to attach both their future first rounders to him, fine. That doesn’t mean they can’t make some smaller move involving Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and a future second rounder. It wouldn’t win them immediate headlines or sell jerseys, but it would make the roster make just a little more sense. That progress would really matter.
After their win Wednesday night, Westbrook’s focus was on how the team competed even despite the odds stacked against them:
The @Lakers get a short handed win over the HEAT. @russwest44 w/ 21-9-8 joined me in post game and tells me, “we competed our ass off.”— Jorge Sedano (@Sedano) January 5, 2023
Plus, what his message was to his teammates throughout and what his kids should be doing pic.twitter.com/gjKrWcfM5L
If the guys on this immensely flawed roster, who know they are likely to be dealt by the way, are willing to compete their asses off, the bare minimum this front office can do is meet them halfway with some commitment of their own. Buss, Pelinka, the Rambii and everyone else in that infamous Inner Circle are running out of excuses to sit on their hands.
Today on “I Loathe Basketball,” Harrison Faigen and I discussed this, the latest on Anthony Davis, our own misfortunes from this week and more.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.