Are Lakers Smart to Wait for the Right Deal amid Latest NBA Trade Rumors?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVNovember 28, 2022

Are Lakers Smart to Wait for the Right Deal amid Latest NBA Trade Rumors?

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    Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday Jan. 15, 202, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
    AP Photo/David Zalubowski

    After losing 10 of their first 12 tilts to open the 2022-23 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers have suddenly reeled off five wins in their last six outings.

    The big picture meaning of this recent success is mostly muddled, but there is one takeaway that could shape the rest of this campaign. If nothing else, the Lakers are buying themselves more time before making a potentially fortune-altering decision.

    "What they feel is realistic is playing .500 ball until Dec. 15 when deals start to potentially open around the league because that's when contracts that were signed this past summer can be traded," ESPN's Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective podcast (h/t Lakers Nation). "And then maybe you can finally make this mythical draft-pick trade that's been talked about for months and months and months sometime in late December to mid-January."

    The pool of trade-eligible players deepens considerably in December, so that's one argument for waiting to make any significant moves. The debate goes much deeper than that, though, so let's examine both sides before determining the best course of action.

The Case for Waiting

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham talks with Rob Pelinka before the NBA game between the Cleveland Cavilers and the Los Angeles Lakers on November 06, 2022, at Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    While franchise pillars LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain in place, it's easy to forget how drastically different this roster is just from last season. Of the 17 Lakers to log minutes this season, only six were with the team in 2022-23, including Kendrick Nunn, who never suited up due to a knee injury.

    It's possible—if not probable—this club hasn't reached its full rhythm just yet. Now, that doesn't mean the Lakers are dramatically better than they've shown, but they have looked more in sync lately. Perhaps a favorable schedule has played into that, but maybe this is also a sign that players are getting a better sense of their roles and an identity is being formed.

    Waiting gives L.A. more time to learn about itself—and this trade market.

    Internally, the Lakers are still seeing how the puzzle pieces can fit when the team has a clean bill of health. They're also doing their best to make it work with Russell Westbrook, who has really picked up his production since taking over the second team offense. Externally, L.A. can see which clubs fall short enough of expectations to entertain trade talks and perhaps populate the trade market with some unexpected names.

The Argument Against Playing It Patient

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 26: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on November 26, 2022 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images

    James might often resemble a basketball-playing cyborg, but he is, in fact, as human as the rest of us. And, as you may have heard a time or a two (thousand), he'll turn 38 before the new year.

    He doesn't have time for patience.

    "James...does not want to waste a season of his high-level playing days in hopes of incoming reinforcements for the 2023-24 campaign, sources say," B/R's Chris Haynes reported. "Other core players on the roster would likewise prefer [the 2027 and 2029 first-round] picks to be used to elevate this year's team."

    While the Lakers front office seemingly wants a better feel for this club and its ceiling before parting with potentially uber-valuable picks, the risk is that this season could get away from them before they ever try to save it.

    In this recent run, the Lakers have three wins over the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs, one against the rebuilding Detroit Pistons and one against a Brooklyn Nets team that was missing both Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. While all wins count the same in the standings, L.A. hasn't exactly knocked off a ton of world-beaters, which it will need to do here soon if it wants to carry this success into mid-December.

    If the Lakers don't add reinforcements now, they could be completely out of steam before mid-December's unofficial start of trade season.

What's the Better Option?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 9: LeBron James #6 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers stand for the national anthem before the game against the LA Clippers on November 9, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Tyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Tyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images

    L.A.'s handling of the trade market ultimately hinges on one question: Are James and Davis still good enough to lead a championship charge?

    All other points of this discussion are effectively moot. So, for all of the other information the front office might be gathering, everything boils down to what these executives think this dynamic duo can do.

    If the Lakers don't see a championship upside for this twosome, then the idea of dealing away unprotected future picks would be nothing short of management malpractice. L.A. has zero clue of how good—or bad—it might be come 2027, let alone 2029, so it can't take the risk of trading away top picks for the chance to make a first-round cameo.

    However, if the Lakers view James and Davis as a championship foundation, then the clock is ticking to put a championship-caliber supporting cast around them. This six-game swing has been promising, but the difficulty level is about to ramp up several notches. If extra help doesn't arrive soon, L.A. will need is role players to exceed all expectations to keep this club competitive enough to justify making a blockbuster move at some point later on this season.