With the Lakers roughly a quarter of the way into the season, the front office is starting to weigh it’s options on how to upgrade the roster and proceed the rest of the way. Per the Athletic’s (and friend of LNLS) Jovan Buha, Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss and co are sifting through trade packages and weighing three courses of action on the market, currently.
Path 1: Trade Russell Westbrook, plus a pick or two, for a star or multiplayer haul.
Path 2: Trade some combination of Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and picks (one first-round and/or multiple second-round picks) for role players who better address needs and upgrade the rotation.
Path 3: Two separate deals: one with Westbrook plus one first-round pick, another using a Beverley-Nunn-pick package.
Buha would go on to say that the Lakers are leaning towards paths 2 & 3 as we approach the December 15th date where free agents signed this off-season can be traded. But which option would be best for the team to take?
There are varying opinions on this roster, specifically on Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It seemed pretty clear to most that the front office didn’t believe Bron and AD were enough to contend for a title anymore and to be fair, looked like they were right when the Lakers stumbled out to a 2-10 start.
But what a difference ten games can make. Eight wins later, AD looks like the best two-way player in the world and LeBron still looks like LeBron. Brow has exceeded the lofty expectations fans and the team put on him heading into this year after two lackluster seasons, capping off an incredible stretch with 55 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks in a road win against the Wizards (let’s just pretend the Cavs game was a DNP).
What’s crazy is that was his second most impressive night in two games. Two nights before that he went toe to toe with Giannis Antetokounmpo, putting up 44 points, 10 boards and three blocks against the Greek Freak and Brook Lopez in the Lakers best win of the season.
It is clear as day that the Lakers have to move now and maximize this version of Davis and James. To do so, they have to maximize the return for every available asset, including Westbrook, Beverley, Nunn and both tradable first-round picks.
Before the Russ stans go into a feeding frenzy I want to acknowledge how impressive Westbrook has been in his new role as sixth man. He has had a great attitude and set the table extremely well, being top six in the NBA in assists per game despite coming off the bench.
But during the 8-2 stretch for the Lakers, Russ shooting splits are 38/24/53 and he is still averaging over three turnovers per game. His assist numbers are elite, but for FORTY SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS this season he just cannot stay on a roster with title hopes. He has shown he still has a place in this league and that he can play at a high level in spurts, but unfortunately you cannot ignore that his salary alone can bring back 2-3 high-level role players.
As for Nunn and Beverley, both have unfortunately been massive disappointments this season and if we’re being 100% fair, neither really deserves minutes at this point (even if Bev is this season’s Avery Bradley). Those two packaged with Damian Jones can bring back almost $26M in salary in a trade. The unfortunate reality is that with how poorly all three have played you are going to have to include draft compensation to bring back anyone of value.
In terms of the much talked about 27’ and 29’ picks, if the Lakers are serious about contending it seems they have no choice but to include them in proposals. I don’t see a package out there that justifies including both (stay away from DeRozan and Vucevic deals please), but by using one in a Russ deal and another in a Nunn/Bev deal the Lakers can really build some depth, especially at a wing position where they are severely lacking.
With plenty of options available via trade, and that number growing as teams begin to tank for draft position this year, the Lakers will have an opportunity to turn this team into a true contender in a Western Conference lacks a true alpha. Will the front office pull the trigger? We can only hope so.
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