It's been a lot of fun talking about what the Los Angeles Lakers could do before the February trade deadline, and there has been no shortage of buzz on the rumor mill. The Lakers have been linked to multiple players, dating back to the offseason and Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving.
However, the Lakers are no longer interested in Irving, according to Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes.
"His name is not really coming up, even for the Los Angeles Lakers, who he was tied to for much of the offseason," Haynes told The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Jonathan Sherman of Lakers Daily). "That’s just not something I’m hearing right now."
The Lakers have long been linked to the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner and Buddy Hield as well. However, with the cross-town Clippers also reportedly interested in Turner, that hypothetical deal could get too expensive for the Lakers.
"Much has been made of the perceived trade stalemate between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers, but the Los Angeles Clippers may yet change the conversation entirely," Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus wrote. "According to multiple sources, the Clippers have discussed targeting Myles Turner in the market."
According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, the Lakers have had an eye on sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović since before the Detroit Pistons acquired him from the Utah Jazz. Would Bogdanović really make a difference this season? Perhaps, but it would require the Lakers moving on from newly-minted sixth man Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook—who carries a massive $47 million salary this season—would be the centerpiece of any blockbuster Lakers trade, and that's become far less desirable than it was a year ago. Rookie head coach Darvin Ham has found a role for Westbrook that actually works.
The 34-year-old is averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists. He's also hitting 33.3 percent of his three-point attempts, his highest rate in years. Westbrook has been so improved, that the Lakers are getting trade inquiries about him, according to Haynes.
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like L.A. could get desperate to trade away Westbrook. Now, he's an asset. With him playing well and Anthony Davis dominating, the Lakers have gone on a three-game winning streak despite not having centerpiece LeBron James (groin) in the lineup.
Los Angeles' momentum could come crashing down tomorrow against the Phoenix Suns, of course, but Ham is getting his squad into a rhythm. If he can reintegrate James into the lineup without changing what has worked over the past week, L.A. could still emerge as a playoff threat.
Simply put, there isn't a reasonable trade that would make Los Angeles dramatically better than what it still can be with its current group. As one unnamed NBA executive recently told Steve Bulpett of Heavy, that's only part of the equation:
"I've heard the names that are being thrown around, but I don't see anything that's going to give them a real chance at winning anything. They're better off letting Russell (Westbrook)’s $47 million come off the books and seeing where they are then. If they were to find someone to take him now, they'd have to be taking on salary that will push into next year and probably beyond. That's just sticking them in the mud for more years. The important thing is getting out of the mud, not looking slightly better while you’re in it."
If Westbrook was still a starting-lineup liability, trading him would make a lot more sense. With him being a valuable contributor, it makes a whole lot less. The financials are a big part of it.
Because of NBA trade guidelines, the Lakers would have to salary-match any trade involving Westbrook. That means that would have to take on at least $37.6 million in 2022-23 salary to move him.
As the unnamed exec pointed out, that could also mean putting a lot of money on the books in future years. In addition, L.A. might have to part with its 2027 or 2029 first-round pick (or both) in a deal.
This could leave Los Angeles as a cap-strapped team in the offseason with few tradable draft assets and little hope of getting better. If things just don't work out with Westbrook and Co. this season, L.A. will at least have a realistic chance to reload in 2023.
This doesn't mean that the Lakers can't still improve their roster this season—though the form of reinforcement wouldn't be as headline-grabbing as Hield or Beal. The Lakers could still use some improved outside shooting around James and Davis, and perhaps a three-point specialist will become available in a post-deadline buyout.
An ancillary trade not involving Westbrook could also be a possibility.
And we shouldn't discount Friday's debuts of Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schroder. These are quality contributors that the Lakers haven't had until now because of injuries. There's still a chance that this roster is a lot better than it showed during the opening month.
Another role-player or two might be all the Lakers really need.
Ham has the Lakers trending in the right direction, even if L.A. isn't a realistic title contender. A blockbuster trade isn't likely to make L.A. a tier or two better, and engineering one makes very little sense given where it could leave the Lakers in a year or two.
It's fun to think of all the "what-if" trade scenarios, and the situation could change dramatically between now and the trade deadline. Currently, though, fans should expect the Lakers to continue running with what they have.