Now that we’ve reached the other side with only 27 games remaining, let’s evaluate the winners, losers, and question marks after the Lakers made some moves prior to the deadline.
I think most Lakers fans (as well as some people listed below) were begging for Rob Pelinka to do anything at this trade deadline (even following the deal that acquired Rui Hachimura). With that external and internal pressure on the Vice President of Basketball Operations, there was always going to be the potential of the team overpaying, especially in a deal that would involve Russell Westbrook and his (albeit expiring) $47 million contract. This concern was even more amplified given the fact that many have looked back and felt that the package traded for Anthony Davis – even though it brought the franchise a championship – was a little too hefty.
However, at this current time of analysis, it looks like Pelinka’s prudent practice paid off. To acquire four players who figure to be key contributors in the rotation, Pelinka only sent out Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, a top-4 protected 2027 first round pick, and a second round pick.
The moves at this trade deadline don’t erase the mistakes he’s made since winning the 2020 NBA Finals. However, they do get the Lakers back on a path of productivity not only in the short-term but the long-term as well.
No, I’m not about to pile on Westbrook more by saying Ham is a winner here, as he does not have to deal with this specific headache anymore. Although…
Ham wins here as this team – as they did in the past offseason after his hiring – has become way younger. In that past offseason, shortly after he was hired, Ham noted that he, Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss were aligned in the pursuit of becoming more athletic, better at shooting, and, most importantly, younger.
The team’s most noteworthy departing players at this deadline were Westbrook and Beverley who are both 34 years old. The returning pieces in those two trades were D’Angelo Russell (26 years old), Malik Beasley (26), Mo Bamba (24), and Jarred Vanderbilt (23). On top of that, Westbrook and Beverley were going to be unrestricted free agents this summer, with it being doubtful that the above-the-cap Lakers could bring them back (if for some reason they wanted to). Each player’s situation is unique, but most of the guys acquired at this deadline (Hachimura included) can be brought back next season, even if the Lakers are over the salary cap number.
That means that not only will Ham get to help develop these players by throwing them into the fire for the rest of this season, but he will get to develop them in a more efficient matter during this summer and beyond.
Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones
JTA and Jones were shipped out alongside Westbrook in the three-team deal between the Lakers, Jazz, and Timberwolves.
There wasn’t much of a guarantee on a role for JTA coming into training camp, however, an optimistic take at the time was that he’d at least be competing for minutes given his size as a wing amidst a roster severely lacking in that department. As for Jones, he was one of the few free agency signings given a second year on his deal and was actually reported in training camp to be in the starting lineup during practice. From the beginning of the season, it was readily apparent that either Jones wasn’t a fit for Ham’s system, his play had taken an extreme step back, or a combination of both.
After the trade, it’s hard to see either of them having a long career in the NBA.
The young high schooler who won’t be drafted by the Lakers
After months and months of the team, media, and fans fretting over draft picks that will be used 4-5 years from now, the Lakers did finally part ways with one of those two first-round picks we’ve discussed ad nauseam.
Sadly, that means a current freshman or sophomore in high school will end up being drafted by the Jazz instead of the Lakers. Of course, that is unless that high schooler is very, very good and the Lakers are very, very bad in the 2026-27 season resulting in a top 4 draft pick coming back to them.
It was reported that the trade that sent Bryant to the Nuggets came after Bryant requested a trade himself. The reporting said that he had become upset over reduced playing time since Davis returned.
Bryant has more than outplayed the veteran minimum contract he’s on, and I admire him for having such confidence in himself… but… I don’t really see that playing time dramatically increasing in Denver as he comes off the bench behind one Nikola Jokic. They needed a backup center, and he will definitely get some playing time, but it may be the same if not less than what he received in L.A.
Still, he should be due for a contract valued more than the veteran minimum this year from some team, so all-in-all I don’t think this trade will affect him personally in the long run.
Since I think a lot of members of the Lakers won, you might be surprised to see LeBron James down here. Just as Pelinka, Ham, and the Lakers team in general seem to be in a much better spot now than where they were earlier in the week, I do think LeBron’s life will be much easier from here on out.
However, who knows if that’s how LeBron feels. And as we all know, in the LeBron business, it’s always good to keep the man happy.
After the successful attempt to push for acquiring Westbrook and the unsuccessful attempt to push for acquiring Kyrie Irving, it’s now very apparent that LeBron strongly desires a third star alongside him and Anthony Davis. That did not really happen here, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll happen in the offseason either (unless you consider D’Angelo Russell a star).
As previously noted, the Lakers only have 27 remaining regular season games to vault themselves from the 13th seed into the play-in mix at the very least. If they do so, and LeBron and AD stay healthy, they will be formidable opponents for whoever they meet in those play-in games. And if they get out of that, or get to the 6th seed or higher to avoid it all together, this season should be looked at as a success no matter what they do afterwards.
However, we all know it’s championship or bust in LeBron’s eyes. Even with improvement after the deadline and a brighter future on the horizon, will LeBron be happy in the summer? Or will he push for more maneuvering, whether that’s for parts around him or, even worse, movement of his own after being ineligible to be traded all of this season?
At first, I actually had Westbrook in the “Winners” group. All things considered, I felt things could have gone way worse for him personally. It looks like he will be bought out in Utah, with reports saying the Clippers, Bulls, or Heat may end up signing him. The Lakers appear to be on the up-and-up now, but all three of those teams currently have better records than the Lakers so he’s technically, probably going to a better situation.
As I said, things could have been worse. Reports say that the Lakers could have ended up sending him home like the Rockets did with John Wall last season. Other reports say the Lakers could have ended up buying him out if they were unable to trade him. Although the league definitely looks at him in a worse way compared to 3-5 years ago, that wide outlook on him would have been even worse if he was now a buyout candidate.
But because of other reports leaked out by supposedly within the organization, that positivity from being traded away quickly dissipated. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that a Lakers source referred to Westbrook as a “vampire”, while The Athletic’s Sam Amick detailed the stressful days within the locker room leading up to the trade with much of the story painting the “Stubborn Westbrook” picture that we had got a good look at last season.
Because of the above, I’m putting him in this section. I truly have no idea how the rest of his career is going to go. I’d say this is an inflection point for him, but unfortunately, he might have passed that at some point in the past 2 years.
Either way, I feel I can comfortably say that all parties involved in this matter — the reader of this probably included — are happy now that the Westbrook and Lakers partnership is over.