Can Lakers Still Become Playoff Contender amid Latest NBA Trade Rumors?

Jake RillNovember 30, 2022

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) celebrates a score against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Since getting off to a 2-10 start to the 2022-23 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers have won five of their past seven games. Now that they're 7-12 with plenty of season remaining, they could still be a successful team moving forward.

It appears that seems to be the consensus inside of the Lakers' locker room, too. According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, some players think there's a path that leads to Los Angeles making it to the playoffs in April.

"There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers' locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender," McMenamin recently wrote. "But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades."

So far, Los Angeles hasn't made any deals. It stuck with its roster and waited for several injured players to get healthy, and that's led to some better results.

But it wouldn't be surprising if the Lakers are still active on the trade market before the trade deadline on Feb. 9. It just might not happen in the immediate future.

"The Lakers expect more teams will be willing to engage them in trade talks after Dec. 15, when contracts that were signed in the summer are eligible to be moved, sources said," McMenamin wrote. "But even with more possibilities opening up, league business slows around the holidays, so the odds of any action before mid-January are remote."

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Los Angeles doesn't have much draft capital to include in potential deals. The Lakers own only two first-round picks the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029 selections), and they may not part with those unless it's a trade that significantly improves their roster.

McMenamin reported that a deal between Los Angeles and the Indiana Pacers fell apart prior to the season because the Lakers "backed away." In that trade, Los Angeles would have acquired center Myles Turner and shooting guard Buddy Hield in exchange for point guard Russell Westbrook and those two first-round draft picks.

Could the Lakers get more in return for that package further down the line? That seems a bit unlikely. But McMenamin noted that Los Angeles believes that same potential deal with Indiana could be available if the teams re-engage in discussions later on.

It could be wise for the Lakers to make that trade with the Pacers, if no better offers emerge by late January. Los Angeles would have a deeper lineup with both Turner and Hield in the rotation, and it would also get rid of Westbrook's contract in the process.

Plus, Westbrook hasn't been a great fit with the Lakers over his first two seasons with the team. Even though he's a talented player, Los Angeles would likely fare better with Turner and Hield on the team and Westbrook not.

As long as the Lakers make a trade or two to improve the squad, there's no reason they can't be a playoff team and possibly even a championship contender. They'll need LeBron James and Anthony Davis to stay healthy, but the duo could fare even better without having to share shot attempts with Westbrook.

So there's still hope for Los Angeles, and the Lakers are right in believing they could emerge as a contender later on. After all, they're only three games back of the Sacramento Kings, the current No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Anything could happen for Los Angeles, especially if it makes a key trade or two.