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Why the Lakers shouldn’t move Austin Reaves at the trade deadline

Although his name will naturally be in rumors heading up until Feb. 8, there are enough reasons why Los Angeles should hold onto their young guard.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Trade season is a blur. It’s a mad scramble and, ironically enough, a perfect time for reflection. The NBA’s very own version of Black Friday is, more than anything else, a chance for teams and front offices alike to hold up a mirror and see what their reflection is trying to tell them.

Should they buy, sell, or stand pat?

For the Lakers, who sit fittingly at 21-21, what’s staring back at them continues to be shrouded by an annoying film of inconsistency. Yet because they are the Lakers and employ the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they will certainly be active come the trade deadline on Feb. 8. However, what deal they make could create ripple effects if a false step is made.

The team has already been linked to various names — both big and small — in the past few weeks. Most notably, Chicago Bulls wing Zach LaVine and Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray.

While some feel a potential LaVine deal has a “zero percent chance” of happening, what’s arguably more important than the players the Lakers have been connected to themselves is who they need to keep out of discussions on their end.

Specifically, when it comes to Austin Reaves.

It’s no secret that opposing general managers will call about Reaves in the days leading up to the deadline. And it makes sense why.

From a trade asset perspective, the Lakers’ cupboards aren’t empty but they also aren’t fully stocked either. Due to what they have sent out over the years, the earliest pick Los Angeles can legally trade this season is their 2029 first-rounder. They also own their pick in 2030, but they can not move both due to the Stepien Rule.

It is worth noting that the team can potentially also regain the rights to their first-rounder this year if New Orleans opts to defer their swap until next season — but more on that later.

As a result of this, the team essentially doesn’t possess many bullets left in the form of draft capital to ship out. Meaning, that if the Lakers want to swing for a needle-mover between now and the deadline, the only other route to do so is by including a player like Reaves.

So far, all indications have pointed to the Lakers rebuffing any packages centered around Reaves. Whether this is a negotiating tactic or an indicator of their belief in Reaves long term remains to be seen. But when it comes to his deadline at least, it would behoove them to keep the fan-favorite in-house at least a little longer.

Although the guard has had a roller-coaster of the first half of the season, his importance on the Lakers hasn’t taken a hit.

After inking a multi-year contract, Reaves entered the year with higher expectations and more responsibilities on the offensive end. The outsized role has seen the Arkansas native see a near 6% jump in usage rate, a 9% climb in AST% and forced to create his own bucket 56% of the time compared to his 44% clip last season.

Despite the expected growing pains that have come with this transition, Reaves has still maintained his trademark efficiency. His 57.3% eFG% is the fourth-highest amongst all combo guards who have logged at least 1000 minutes this season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

While the counting numbers have been mostly in line with his first two seasons, his once-gaudy impact numbers have gone in the opposite direction. On the season, Reaves is posting a woeful +/- of -11 in 1248 non-garbage time minutes.

His play — namely his defense — has played a big part in this, but also have things like his role, lineup construction, and the rest of the team’s slippage. That said, Reaves has fortunately shown signs of late in returning to doing the things that originally made him one of the league’s net-rating darlings. He’s a +29 in the team’s last two wins.

Beyond holding onto him because of his production on the floor, Reaves also represents arguably the Lakers’ most valuable non-James or Davis trade chip.

In the first season of his extremely team-friendly 4-year, $56 million deal, Reaves will likely, at the very least, play up to his contract if not blow past the value as he enters his prime at still just 25 years old.

So while LaVine’s dynamism on offense and Murray’s (potential) two-way play may be more impactful to the Lakers’ title hopes than Reaves this year, the extent is likely closer than it seems if not in Reaves’ favor.

Regardless of where you stand on who is better, what the Lakers ultimately must weigh is how much better that tier of players is compared to Reaves (and possibly more) not only in on-court value but also off-court money.

NBA: JAN 23 Hawks at Bulls Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After this season, LaVine is still owed $138 million over the next three years. This also includes a $49 million player option in 2026-27 that he likely will exercise. For Murray, he is about to kick off a four-year, $114 million extension which also features a $30 million player option in 2027-28.

Although the Lakers are very much still in win-now mode given James’ window, they still have to act rationally, especially given Reaves represents their one real asset to use if they want to acquire another bonafide star. LaVine and Murray are very good basketball players, but they are not the caliber you feel comfortable going all-in for.

This brings us back to the pick-swap with New Orleans, who are currently four games ahead of Los Angeles in the standings.

If the Pelicans decide to kick the can down the road for an additional year, the Lakers can, in theory, have up to three first-rounders to trade on draft night if they don’t move either ‘29 or ‘30 before the deadline. And if they hold onto Reaves, they will also then have an attractive young player to bundle with those picks if a star were to suddenly become available.

To be clear, this is not to say the Lakers should go this route. However, it is a potential avenue they can at least explore if the right deal doesn’t present itself ahead of the trade deadline.

Regardless of what path they ultimately opt to take, they should be in no rush to move on from Reaves. No matter your stance on him, he is a young, starting-level player on a good deal at the very worst.

Those types of players and contracts are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and given their lack of real trade assets otherwise, it will only benefit the Lakers to stay patient.

You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.

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