Why Lakers Must Deal 1st Round Picks Amid Trade Rumors to Salvage Championship Hopes

Erik BeastonDecember 7, 2022

The Lakers' path to titles lies in their willingness to deal their coveted first-round picks.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers may be getting MVP-level play out of center Anthony Davis and have four-time NBA champ LeBron James leading the way, but their future title aspirations rest not with those all-world players. Instead, it's in the front office's willingness to look at a team built for the here and now and do what is necessary to maximize its potential.

To do so, it must examine its draft equity and decide when it is time to move its coveted first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.

Unfortunately, that appears to be a non-starter, if Fox Sports' Ric Bucher's report proves accurate: "[A] source familiar with the front office’s thinking said any deal that would have to involve one of the team’s future first-round picks 'ain’t happening.'"

The foundational pieces are there in Los Angeles. James and Davis are two of the best players in the world, the latter being one of the most dominant when he can stay healthy and on the court.

But two players do not make the team.

Sure, there is Patrick Beverley. Mr. Playoffs himself, but he is averaging 4.2 points per game, shooting 27.1 percent from the floor and, according to the same report from Bucher, could be on the trade block, although Bucher added the return for him is "not likely to be significant."

Bucher pointed out that the refusal to trade picks could be related to the team's general manager, Rob Pelinka, looking toward the future and "the inevitable post-LeBron rebuild." That raises the question: What was the point of bringing James into the fold, and mortgaging the immediate future by acquiring Davis, if not to win now while you have the greatest player of his generation at your disposal?

It would appear the wisest choice would be to surround James with the talent necessary to win a few championships while you still have him for, at least, the next two or three seasons.

ESPN's Zach Lowe reported on his The Lowe Post podcast that the Lakers have explored the potential of bringing DeMar DeRozan in, but they would need to part ways with the aforementioned picks to make a deal happen with Chicago.

Such a move would immediately improve the scoring issues facing the Lakers earlier in the season and give them a forward who can take the pressure off of James and Davis and win games on his own. It would also, according to Lowe, likely send Nikola Vučević to Los Angeles, where he could be more-than-capable relief behind Davis should injury strike or the big man simply needs a game off.

Both would be massive upgrades from what the Lakers have at their position currently and, assuming chemistry is not difficult to discover between all involved, would almost certainly make the Lakers a sudden favorite to emerge from the Western Conference.

Considering everyone from the players to the front office is in the business of winning and compiling titles, the idea of holding on to two draft picks some five years away in anticipation of your top star retiring or going elsewhere is in direct competition of that philosophy.

No matter how many times the team has struck gold and been able to acquire generational talent, the likelihood that James, a player and leader, walks through the door and can both keep it in title contention while recruiting players to come join him in the pursuit of greatness is low.

Regardless of how bumpy last season and the start to this one have been, it is still in the best interest of Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers organization to accumulate as many pieces as possible to take advantage of the rare foundation it has built before he becomes recognized forever as the front office suit that had James and did not make the necessary moves to win now and often with him.