Lakers Are Aiming Too High in Latest NBA Trade Rumors Involving 1st-Round Draft Picks

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVDecember 9, 2022

Lakers Are Aiming Too High in Latest NBA Trade Rumors Involving 1st-Round Draft Picks

0 of 3

    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 02: Rob Pelinka attends a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com Arena on November 02, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
    Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers are doing more than practicing patience on the trade front.

    They're also hoping for a splurge they simply can't afford.

    While they have a pair of first-round picks to offer, neither will convey until way down the line (2027 and 2029). They'd also be presumably attached to an unwanted contract, whether it's Russell Westbrook's bloated deal or smaller, but still overpriced, salaries like those of Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn.

    That's the best the Lakers have to offer, yet they don't plan on cashing in those chips for anything less than "essentially an All-Star-level player," per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    The Lakers are fine to set their wish list to its maximum optimism setting, but if they really want to broker a deal that gets Anthony Davis and LeBron James more help, they need to be realistic about how much their assets are actually worth.

The Problem with the Lakers' Package

1 of 3

    CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 06: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks to the bench during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on December 06, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    When—or maybe if—the Lakers ever sacrifice one or both of those future first-rounders, the picks will have to be packaged with at least one player. All of the reasonable trade candidates will immediately drag down the value of that package.

    Westbrook has been reasonably effective in a reserve role, but he's paid like a superstar ($47.1 million this season, per Spotrac). It's such a colossal overpay—he's shooting 40.6 percent and averaging a whopping 4.7 turnovers per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference—that you could argue one of those first-rounders is needed just to incentivize someone to take the financial hit.

    Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are cheaper, but they may not have any more trade value than Westbrook. At least Westbrook has a few numbers working in his favor (like his 14.7 points and 7.3 assists per game). Beverley is averaging a career-worst 4.2 points. Nunn is putting up just 5.7 points while matching his 1.2 assists with 1.2 turnovers. Beverley is shooting 27.1 percent from the field, and both are shooting below 27 percent from three.

    All three have negative trade value, meaning their attachment to any trade will only drag down the overall appeal of the package. Pivoting to other players doesn't really work. Dealing away a James or Davis would torpedo the season. Potential sweeteners like Austin Reaves or Lonnie Walker IV are needed in the rotation. No one else makes enough to line up salaries in a significant swap.

There Aren't Even Any Stars Available

2 of 3

    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls smiles during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 15, 2021 at STAPLES Center 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 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Let's assume for a minute that L.A. actually had enough to reel in a star. Who would that player even be?

    There are no disgruntled stars eagerly awaiting a change of address. (None that we know of, anyway). There aren't as many teams tanking as expected, and those residing at the bottom of the standings don't have stars on the roster.

    Could that change between now and the deadline? It's possible. Maybe Bradley Beal reverses course and finally wants out of the District. Perhaps the Chicago Bulls agree with the external assessment that they're heading nowhere fast and pivot toward a tank job intended to save the top-four protected pick they owe the Orlando Magic.

    Which of those are guaranteed, though? None. Even if a star or two shakes loose, it's more likely than not that a different suitor could trump the Lakers' offer. The odds aren't nearly good enough to treat this as the sole trade strategy.

What Should the Lakers Target?

3 of 3

    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 9: Buddy Hield #24 and Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers smiles during the Pacers Fan Jam on October 9, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. 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 Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

    If the Lakers can keep Davis and James healthy, then they don't have to worry about finding another star. They'll have enough star power to hang with anyone, assuming Davis continues playing at the MVP level he was flashing before a recent illness.

    The aim, then, should be for depth and reliability.

    The Lakers need more size on the interior, more length on the perimeter and more defense and shooting all over. Stars who scratch that many boxes receive the untouchable treatment. So, the smart move is targeting role players who can address an area or two.

    The oft-discussed Indiana Pacers package of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield still intrigues for the way it would directly address some of the Lakers' largest weaknesses. However, you can find similar packages of role players across the trade market.

    Not everyone will agree that this team should part with a valuable future first or two in deals for non-stars, but if L.A. is serious about significantly improving the roster this season, that remains the likeliest path.

X