Lakers' Blueprint for 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2022

Lakers' Blueprint for 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Reinforcements can't come fast enough for the Los Angeles Lakers, who crossed the midpoint of the 2021-22 NBA season spinning their tires with a .500 record.

    The front office will have to get creative to find them between now and the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

    L.A., as you might have heard, is short on trade chips. Most of its future draft picks are already spoken for, and most of this roster is either making minimum money or a presumably untouchable star (i.e., LeBron James or Anthony Davis).

    Those are explanations for why this is a tricky trade season, but they aren't excuses for the front office. General manager Rob Pelinka and his staff must work tirelessly to sniff out solutions to the Purple and Gold's problems.

    The following three-step blueprint should point the Lakers in the right direction.

1. Leave No Stone Unturned in Attempt to Trade Russell Westbrook

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    It would probably take a miracle to broker a Russell Westbrook blockbuster. Well, that or maybe a reboot of the Westbrook-for-John Wall trade (although the Houston Rockets might be happier having Wall stay away to keep the runway clear for their young guards).

    His ball-dominant style puts numbers on the stat sheet, but he just doesn't do enough that positively affects winning. For the second time in three seasons, his team is playing better without him, per Basketball Reference.

    That's a troubling trend for any player, but it's an unforgivable sin for someone with a $44.2 million salary (and a $47.1 million player option for next season to boot), per Spotrac.

    Still, just because logic says there isn't a Westbrook suitor out there, that doesn't mean the Lakers should abandon hope of finding one. History has revealed time and again that there are no untradeable players, and if the Lakers could somehow unload him, it would be a significant win regardless of who and what they took back.

2. Trade Talen Horton-Tucker for Best Offer Available

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Any Lakers trade talks worth their weight in digital content are sure to include Talen Horton-Tucker.

    There are two reasons for that. First, he has the only significant salary among players not named James, Davis or Westbrook, so Horton-Tucker is needed to make the money work in a trade for anyone of note. Second, the 21-year-old has underwhelmed in his third NBA season, and it's possible his best basketball is far enough into the future that he can't be of major assistance to James.

    Actually, let's add a third reason to that list: He's the most exciting prospect on the roster. Granted, that label sort of lands by default—even rookie Austin Reaves is two years his senior—but Horton-Tucker's flashes of shot creation and enviable length (7'1" wingspan) give him a wide range of outcomes, and some of them are intriguing.

    In other words, he is their best usable, on-court trade chip. And the Lakers should be ready to cash in the final resources they have for the top player they can afford. Winning the Jerami Grant sweepstakes still feels like a long shot, but something in that mold would be a massive jolt for this roster.

3. Scan Bargain Bin for Scorers and Stoppers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Lakers need a little bit of everything right now.

    Given their budget constraints, they should be ready to pounce on just about any bargain this trade market offers up.

    Other than maybe shooting specialists, L.A. isn't deep anywhere. It needs better defenders, extra shot creators, more ball-movers and some supplemental scorers. A stretch big would give this frontcourt some missing versatility too.

    Like we said, the wishlist is long. Checking off even one of those boxes at a discounted price would be a not insignificant win for this front office.