The trade deadline remains one of the busiest times of the year in the NBA, especially for a franchise like the Lakers, which always finds itself amongst rumors. Whether it be superstar blockbusters or final pieces to try to push someone over the top, teams across the league are on the phone until the final seconds and even beyond the early February deadline.
But is there any correlation between activity at the trade deadline and winning a title? On paper, the teams that raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy aren’t the ones that swung big or had a roster overhaul at the trade deadline, but does history back that up?
Specifically when it comes to the Lakers, a team with the joint-most banners hanging from the rafters, what is the history of their title-winning teams at the deadline? Has activity meant success?
In simple terms, no.
Looking back through the Showtime Era, the Lakers have been surprisingly inactive at the deadline the year they won the title.
Their last title-winning team, the 2019-20 Lakers, did not make a deal at the deadline. Their only in-season acquisition — outside of some bubble-related signings of JR Smith and Dion Waiters — was buyout forward Markieff Morris.
The back-to-back title-winning Lakers of 2009 and 2010 did almost NOTHING during the season. In fact, here’s the entirety of the transaction log, according to Basketball Reference, for the 2009-10 Lakers:
- September 28, 2009 - Signed Mickaël Gelabale as a free agent.
- October 10, 2009 - Waived Mickaël Gelabale.
- June 24, 2010 - Drafted Devin Ebanks in the 2nd round (43rd pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft. Drafted Derrick Caracter in the 2nd round (58th pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft.
In 2008-09, the Lakers made a couple of moves near the deadline, both smaller deals: acquiring Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison for Vladimir Radmanovic and sending Chris Mihm out in a salary dump.
This is a trend that repeats itself a lot. In the 3-peat era, the 2001-02 Lakers did not make a transaction after November, the 2000-01 Lakers did not make a transaction after October and the 1999-2000 Lakers last made a move on Nov. 12. Not a signing, not a player waived, not a trade, nothing.
From there, you have to jump all the way back to the Showtime Era where it was an entirely different league, basically. While there was selling the rights to a player or signing and waiving guys mid-season, there were only two seasons they made trades at or near the deadline.
In 1979-80, the team acquired Mark Landsberger, a backup big man, as well as Butch Lee — who only played 11 games for the Lakers before never playing in the league again — as well as a 1982 first round pick that eventually became James Worthy. So, I guess you could technically say the biggest trade the Lakers ever made at the deadline was for Big Game James.
Perhaps the biggest move any title team has made for an actual player was in 1986-87 when the team dealt Frank Brickowski, Pétur Guðmundsson, a 1987 1st round draft pick and a 1990 2nd round draft pick for Mychal Thompson, who played the next 5.5 seasons in Los Angeles before eventually becoming a Twitter legend.
This may be too small a sample size to make an overall claim, but it’s also not a coincidence that there wasn’t any big shake-up to these teams late in the regular season.
Does that mean a team shouldn’t strive to make upgrades at the deadline, even if it requires a big shake-up? Certainly not. No one would argue, for example, that the trade to send out Westbrook wasn’t a great deal. But it also isn’t a title-winning formula in previous years.
It’s certainly a dynamic and variable worth monitoring as the Lakers move forward into future trade deadlines.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.