Lakers' Top Trade Priorities Entering 2022

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 30, 2021

Lakers' Top Trade Priorities Entering 2022

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    The Los Angeles Lakers might be the biggest disappointment of the 2021-22 NBA season.

    Dubbed preseason favorites in the Western Conference by oddsmakers, they instead find themselves seventh in the conference standings—and arguably lucky they don't rank even lower, since they're a game under .500 through 35 contests.

    Normally, a disappointment of this magnitude might lead to a flurry of trade activity, but that probably isn't in the cards for the Lakers. They're light on both trade chips and movable, significant contracts, especially if they aren't interested (as they shouldn't be) in the nuclear option of an Anthony Davis megadeal.

    Having said that, the Lakers are surely on the hunt for upgrades, and they should have enough pieces to get something done. When vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka maps out his trade plans, the following three areas should be primary points of focus.

Perimeter Stoppers

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    Last season, the Lakers had the league's most efficient defense. Entering Wednesday, they've dropped to 12th in the category. What happened?

    "They're old, and they can't stay in front of anyone," a rival assistant coach told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

    L.A.'s offseason overhaul had a clear focus on the offensive end, and its defense is paying the price. With Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma hooping elsewhere, the Lakers' top perimeter defender is now...well-past-his-prime Avery Bradley? Thirty-seven-year-old LeBron James? Out-of-the-rotation Kent Bazemore? Still-figuring-it-out Talen Horton-Tucker?

    There's just not much to be excited about here, regardless if you're talking point-of-attack stoppers or wing defenders. The Lakers desperately need an upgrade, which explains their (wildly ambitious) reported interest in Jerami Grant and Ben Simmons, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.

Three-Point Snipers

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    The Lakers have never surrounded James with the level of shooting he thrived with on the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, their offseason move to add Russell Westbrook basically sent them the opposite direction.

    They have a few shooting threats—Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk—but they all come attached with deficiencies that limit their playing time. Anthony and Ellington are offensive specialists. Monk has an unpredictable streakiness in all layers of his game.

    Remove those three from the equation, and defenses just don't have much to worry about with L.A.'s long-range attack. James is adequate. Westbrook is below-average. Davis is basically a non-shooter at this point. Avery Bradley and Austin Reaves have decent percentages, but both lack volume.

    Collectively, the Lakers land among the league's bottom-half in threes, three-point attempts and three-point percentage.

Frontcourt Depth

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    Give any team the Lakers' level of injury and illness issues, and it would surely expose some problems with depth.

    But L.A. didn't need this run of misfortune to know it was light on forwards.

    If Davis' playoff minutes will come mostly at center, as they usually do, there are effectively three forwards on the roster: James, Anthony and Trevor Ariza. The latter is the youngest of that trio at 36 years old.

    Giving this group another usable player—preferably one who defends—should be an obvious move, if for no other reason than to have an insurance policy behind three late-30-somethings. Staying in the frontcourt, a floor-spacing center should land somewhere on the wish list to give head coach Frank Vogel more flexibility with his lineups.