Dec. 15 marks the unofficial start of the trade season, as a significant portion of the free agents who signed with teams last offseason are now eligible to trade. That means we’re about to hear a lot of Lakers fans ask: “Hey, can we catch that guy?”
Through nearly 30 games of the 2023-22 regular season, Los Angeles’ game has been rather uninspiring, leading to speculation that general manager Rob Pelinka could try to turn things around before the trade deadline. . The Lakers are just above .500 (15-13) and rank sixth in the Western Conference standings entering Wednesday night’s game against the Mavericks.
Here’s the good news for purple and gold: The Lakers have won five of their last seven games, and LeBron James has been fantastic since returning from injury earlier in the season. Frank Vogel has been forced to play in a variety of rosters due to injuries and COVID-19 issues, but Los Angeles has found a way to stay above the entry tournament line.
The bad news? The Lakers didn’t take advantage of a softboard earlier in the year, and now have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to Tankathon. They also have multiple players in the league’s health and safety protocols, and there will be more injury-related absences in the future.
Simply put, this Los Angeles team doesn’t look like a title contender compared to the Warriors or Suns, at least not yet. Could the Lakers find someone to make a difference before the February 10 deadline?
NBA League Pass: Sign up to unlock games outside the live market (7-day free trial)
Lakers Trade Rumors: Which Players Could Los Angeles Target?
The Lakers are among teams interested in 76ers star Ben Simmons and Pistons forward Jerami Grant, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Either of those players would certainly qualify as a major acquisition for Los Angeles, but it’s hard to imagine how Pelinka could build a deal that works for both parties.
Simmons’ salary for the 2023-22 season is more than $ 33 million, and the Lakers don’t have the ability to match him unless they are willing to part ways with James, Anthony Davis or Russell Westbrook. Grant’s salary is over $ 20 million, but Los Angeles won’t be the only team asking Detroit about his status. Other potential suitors should be able to easily outbid any offer from the Lakers due to their lack of attractive assets (more on that below).
A highly successful trade seems unrealistic unless a third team steps in, and completing those deals is always tricky. The Lakers will have to seek help at the level below Simmons and Grant. Role players like Robert Covington, Buddy Hield, and Terrence Ross may be available for the right price, although even those guys could be in high demand depending on how the market evolves.
MORE: 10 Players Most Likely to Be Traded This Season
Would the Lakers trade Russell Westbrook? And Talen Horton-Tucker?
Los Angeles has “had internal discussions about business scenarios” for Westbrook, according to Jake Fischer of the Bleacher Report. However, the Lakers are unlikely to end the Westbrook experiment that quickly because he is expected to make more than $ 91 million in the next two seasons, assuming he accepts his player option for 2023-23. Fischer also noted that the Sixers don’t have Westbrook on their “hopeful returns list,” so a Simmons deal for Westbrook is out of the question.
Meanwhile, Horton-Tucker could absolutely be on the move before the deadline, as he only makes $ 9.5 million. (He can’t be traded until Jan.15 because he signed the rights to Bird up more than 20 percent from the previous season.) Horton-Tucker is averaging a career-high 11.3 points per game this season, but has seen a notable drop in efficiency. However, he’s only 21 years old, so he could be a great option for a rebuilding team.
Westbrook may appear in rumors because, well, it’s Westbrook, but Horton-Tucker is the Lakers’ most valuable trade token.
MORE: How Simmons would fit in alongside Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard
Why the Lakers Could Be Limited in Trade Negotiations
Outside of Horton-Tucker, which Lakers roster players are intriguing to general managers? Sure, any team would love to add James and Davis, but they’re going nowhere. Kendrick Nunn is pushing someone towards the phone? He hasn’t even played in a game this season.
Los Angeles also has a wage match problem. Westbrook ($ 44.2 million), James ($ 41.2 million) and Davis ($ 35.4 million) are making a lot of money, but there is a major drop after the “Big Three.” The Lakers have 10 players who are paid between $ 900,000 and $ 2.7 million this season, and the majority are veterans with minimal business value.
Oh, and draft picks … there’s not much in that closet. The Lakers sent their best young players and draft picks to acquire Davis. The Stepien rule dictates that teams can’t trade their first-round picks in consecutive years, so they can’t submit a first-round pick before 2027 (maybe Pelinka should ask Thunder general manager Sam Presti if he can. borrow some).
Bottom line: Unless Pelinka can get extremely creative, the Lakers roster will look pretty much the same for months to come.