At one point this season not too long ago, the Lakers not making a trade ahead of the deadline would have felt like a shock. But in the weeks leading up to the deadline, things trended much in the other direction that it wasn’t all that surprising when the deadline came and passed and the Lakers didn’t make a move.
There was no Dejounte Murray, no 3-and-D wings to help replace Jarred Vanderbilt and not even a salary dump to drop below the luxury tax line they were straddling. The Lakers were content enough with what they have to not make risk future assets for a minor upgrade, a point that vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka made when talking to the media on Thursday.
“We talked a lot about continuity at the beginning of the season,” Pelinka said. “We really like the players on our team and we’re confident in this group of players. Of course, that said, my job is to always look for ways to upgrade our roster. But you can’t buy a house that’s not for sale. We spent a lot of time looking for ways to use assets to make our team better but the right move wasn’t there.
“It’s a thoughtful and tricky calculus at times when the trade deadline’s upon us. I think our fans understand that this season is incredibly important and we’ll be very aggressive with our open roster spot.”
The Lakers will still have a chance to sign a buyout player with their open roster spot and should be encouraged by both the financial and on-court incentives they can offer. As a result, they’ll be able to compete for the top names, as they’ve already shown in the short time since the deadline passed.
But the front office’s eyes have drifted past the deadline, past the buyout market and to the summer. With the Pelicans’ decision on whether to take the 2024 or 2025 first round pick as one of the final pieces of the Anthony Davis trade set to be made this offseason, the Lakers will not only have a better sense of their future but more ammunition for a trade.
The Lakers determination was that a small move now would cost them the chance at a big one in four months time, a decision perhaps a bit easier to swallow given the Lakers’ recent play.
“This summer, in June at the time of the draft, we’ll have three first round draft picks to look for deals which I think will really unlock an access to, potentially, a greater or bigger swing,” Pelinka said. “We didn’t want to shoot a small bullet now that would only lead to very marginal improvement at the expense of making a much bigger and impactful movement potentially in June and July.
“We tried everything we could and, again, the market is the market. There was very, very few sellers. I don’t think today, on the deadline day, there were many marquee players moved. There were a lot of buyers and, as everyone knows, when the market has few sellers and tons of buyers, the prices are very, very aggressive and sometimes no move is better than an unwise move.”
The looming aspect of all of this is LeBron James, whose future in Los Angeles is always a focus. As things stand, LeBron has a player option for next season and, in theory, this could be his final year as a Laker.
That, though, did not play into the Lakers’ thought process at the trade deadline.
“If the right move would have been there at the right price, we would have pulled the trigger,” Pelinka said. “We’re not fearful of using future assets for now. It’s just got to be using future assets for the now in the right way in the right deal.”
It’s a gamble for the Lakers, who are relying on what they have and the belief that a buyout player and health can be enough. Or at least enough to get them to the summer for a big swing with a lot more focus and pressure on it now.
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