After a seemingly valiant effort to land Kyrie Irving before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers were left empty-handed once again, as the Dallas Mavericks swooped in to pair the controversial point guard with Luka Doncic.
Now that Irving is off the table, the Lakers are scrambling to figure out another course of action before the buzzer sounds on the deadline in a couple of days. As if the pressure wasn’t already mounting on this franchise and namely general manager Rob Pelinka, LeBron James continues to publicly express his disappointment about the lack of game-changing moves in Los Angeles.
A trade to land Irving would’ve been that game-changer for the purple and gold. But, even if it didn’t work out for whatever reason, Pelinka would’ve put the team in a position to make a run to salvage what is turning out to be another disappointing season in the LeBron era of Lakers basketball.
With LeBron clearly upset, even though he tried to smooth things over in an ESPN interview on Monday, the Lakers front office is presumably working diligently on trading to find a move or two that can get this team one step closer to competing. The clock is ticking on the deadline for moves to be made (Feb. 9) and James’ time with the team. It is safe to say that if something doesn’t get done to turn around the season quickly, LeBron could be one step closer to shutting things down for the year after he passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, of course, another step toward considering his future elsewhere.
A lot hinges on what happens in the coming days leading up to the NBA trade deadline, and here are a few things I believe need to change.
Although he’s in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, moving Westbrook before the deadline makes a lot of sense. It’s a no-brainer. He has a massive expiring contract ($47 million) that teams looking to unload players love to receive in return. His time in Los Angeles continues to be rocky, although nowhere near as bad as last year or at the beginning of this season.
Westbrook is an appealing trade asset, and if Pelinka and company don’t jump on it, they risk losing him for nothing in the offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers need to get something for him now, with teams like the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz being intriguing trade partners looking to make moves.
Desperately Need Shooters!
Despite the recent addition of Rui Hachimura, which was a step in the right direction, the Lakers still have a serious need in the shooting department. As a team, Los Angeles is 28th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage at 33.6%.
In a league dependent on solid shooting from beyond the arc, that will not get the job done, even if this team somehow makes the playoffs. The team’s three best players are putting up horrendous percentages from deep, with LeBron at 30.8%, Westbrook at 28.6% and Anthony Davis at 28.3%.
Even Hachimura is struggling with his outside shooting this season, as he’s putting up a career-low 31.3%, which isn’t far off the percentages of the Big 3.
If the Golden State Warriors have proven anything in their stretch of dominance, three-point shooting is critical to success in this league. So it comes as no surprise that the Lakers are four games below .500 ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder with only four teams (Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets) in the league, three of which are hoping Victor Wembanyama fall in their laps in the NBA draft, shoot a worse percentage.
Fortunately, there are shooters out there rumored to be on the trading block: Bojan Bogdanovic, Gary Trent Jr., Buddy Hield.
The real question is what the team is willing to trade in exchange for improved shooting from beyond the three-point line. The team has been adamant about not trading their two first-round draft picks (2027, 2029) to make a deal unless it drastically changes their chances of competing for a title immediately.
LeBron James’ Future in LA
Perhaps the biggest looming question for the Lakers: What does the future hold for LeBron James?
Despite signing a two-year contract extension before this season, which still baffles the mind as to why he made that move, there’s a real chance the two sides part ways this summer if this season continues to go off the rails.
From LeBron’s perspective, the sand is falling out of the hourglass with a window that is getting smaller by the day to win another championship. The Lakers’ situation is shaky, with Davis’ inability to stay healthy, Westbrook’s future always hanging in the balance, and a roster that doesn’t strike fear in opponents’ hearts. Not to mention limited flexibility to improve the roster beyond this season.
Does adding a knockdown shooter or two significantly improve the team’s chances of competing?
Probably not. But it gives this team a shot at competing and possibly convincing James that it might be worth sticking around, as the team might not already be thinking about the post-LeBron era in Los Angeles.
It’s a strange time in Lakerland, with things potentially getting interesting over the next few days. The team’s actions could hint at what the future holds beyond this season.
One thing is for sure; the team must make a move before Thursday’s deadline if it genuinely intends to make a playoff run this year. Without a substantial move or at least a move to show an intent to improve the roster, it could jeopardize the relationship with LeBron while signaling a potential rebuild starting this summer. That rebuild could begin with the firing of Pelinka.