Lakers Takeaways from 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2022

Lakers Takeaways from 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

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    Preseason favorites to win the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers instead limped to the 2022 NBA trade deadline with a sub-.500 record and waning internal belief.

    Mere days before the cutoff, ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported that players were pushing for change as "standing pat...is not seen as a viable option."

    When the deadline came and went without a deal, it felt deflating. Any external assistance for the stretch run will have come to via the buyout market.

    Here's what else we learned about the Lakers over the past week.

The Trade-Chip Shortage Was a Killer

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    Approaching the deadline, L.A.'s needs were obvious and plentiful. How the club could address those voids, though, was the hard part.

    After unloading assets in previous trades for Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, the Lakers were essentially left with two trade chips: third-year swingman Talen Horton-Tucker and their 2027 first-round pick. The latter was made unavailable, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

    Assuming the pick was off the table, then, it was THT or nothing. And with Horton-Tucker regressing in the first season of a three-year, $30.8 million deal, his trade value was debatable at best. Even clubs optimistic about his chances to rebound had a reason to worry since the contract carries a player option in the third season. In other words, if he finds his footing this season or next, he could re-enter the open market in 2023 for a more lucrative deal.

    Needle-movers were almost certainly out of the Purple and Gold's price range, and once they were forced to move down target tiers, that seemingly made the risk of sacrificing the future pick too great to overlook.

The Russell Westbrook Problem Must Solve Itself

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    Last summer's blockbuster move for Westbrook was nothing less than an all-in wager on this team. The Lakers nearly emptied their asset collection—they lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and a first-round pick in the exchange—and backed themselves into a corner.

    The hope was that Westbrook's playmaking, transition attacks and full-throttle motor might turbo-charge the offense. That hasn't happened. The offense functions no different with or without him, and once you add in his defensive shortcomings, his on-court presence results in a net loss of 4.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.

    The Lakers might have crossed their fingers and hoped a get-out-of-jail-free card would surface at the deadline, but that option was either unavailable or too cost-prohibitive to pursue. So for better or worse, they and Westbrook are stuck with one another.

    If L.A. hopes to salvage this season, it either needs to find a way to weaponize Westbrook as the third star of its Big Three or somehow figure out how to mask the fact that its highest-paid player can't positively contribute to winning.

Major Help Isn't Coming Before the Offseason

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    The Lakers can find reinforcements for the stretch run, as they can, should and almost certainly will be players in the buyout market.

    But what's the best they could realistically do? When The Athletic's John Hollinger recently compiled likely buyout candidates, the following six players who made his top tier: John Wall, Gary Harris, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Dennis Schroder and Robin Lopez.

    There are helpful options in that group but no season-saviors. The buyout market is a place to cover niche roles; at best, though, it bandages up a wound that will eventually require surgical attention.

    Speaking of which, the Lakers can take a scalpel to their roster after this season. They will once again see a majority of their players head into free agency, plus they will gain the ability to sweeten trade offers with a first-round pick they couldn't move at the deadline (their 2029 selection). In other words, change is likely coming at some point—just not as soon as Lakers fans would probably like.

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