LeBron James never envisioned that the Los Angeles Lakers would be floundering in the back end of the playoff picture days before the NBA trade deadline. The Lakers are performing nowhere like a championship contender — instead, they appear destined for a first-round postseason exit.
General manager Rob Pelinka is left feeling like the busy offseason was filled with roster mistakes. Before Thursday’s deadline, James delivered a firm message to the Lakers’ front office.
LeBron James implores the Lakers to explore trade options
There is no way around it. The Lakers have performed well below championship expectations.
With Thursday’s trade deadline quickly approaching, James voiced that he wants the franchise to explore opportunities to improve the roster.
“I’ve always felt like … listen, I don’t really like to play fantasy basketball. This is the group we have going into the deadline. We’ll be ready to take on all challenges that this season has given us,” James said, per NBA.com’s Mark Medina. “If there is an opportunity, I’ve said this every year, if there is an opportunity to get better, then you explore those options. I’ve been like that my whole career; I’ve said that over and over. If you have the opportunity to get better, no one turns that down.”
The 38-year-old isn’t suggesting that the Lakers implode the roster but instead attempt to bring more talent aboard if feasible. The front office constructed a team that is sitting at a 26-28 record in the ninth overall spot in the Western Conference standings.
However, James and the Lakers may have to face the reality that trade deadline avenue doesn’t exist.
The Lakers lack appealing trade assets
As much as the Lakers want to acquire a trade deadline spark, that scenario doesn’t appear likely.
Los Angeles doesn’t possess appealing talent outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The front office wants to part ways with Russell Westbrook, but his poor play, combined with his massive remaining contract, has made him an unmovable asset.
Westbrook is making $44.2 million this season and holds a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 campaign. The Lakers’ trade deadline dilemma has worsened as third-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker’s stock has plummeted.
The Iowa State product’s inconsistent play has led him to garner little interest around the league. The LA Times‘ Dan Woike recently voiced that Horton-Tucker has become viewed as a player with a “bad contract.”
“League insiders have indicated that Talen Horton-Tucker and perhaps the team’s 2027 first-round pick are on the table at the deadline,” Woike wrote. “But my sources tell me the appetite for Horton-Tucker is low, with one experienced league source even calling the 21-year-old a player with a ‘bad contract.’”
Horton-Tucker is in the first year of his three-year, $30.7 million deal. The contract pays him $10.3 million next season and has an $11 million player option for the 2023-24 campaign. Horton-Tucker was previously seen as a promising prospect due to his length as a defender, playmaking as a passer, and ability to get to the rim.
Instead, he’s struggled to find a consistent rhythm, averaging 9.5 points on career lows of 40.6% shooting from the floor and 25.0% from beyond the arc. According to Brian Robb of Mass Live, the Lakers recently offered Horton-Tucker and a future draft pick to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Josh Richardson, but that hasn’t led to a trade.
Los Angeles has also attempted to move Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Jordan, but that’s been met with little interest. General manager Rob Pelinka will have to face the reality that the team’s nightmarish situation is of his own doing.
Los Angeles needs its star power to finally lead the way
LeBron James and the Lakers will likely have to push forward the rest of the season with their current roster.
They need their star power to finally lead the way as they initially hoped during the offseason after acquiring Westbrook. The nine-time All-Star must comfortably fill his role as the third scorer behind James and Davis if the Lakers want to experience much more than a first-round playoff exit.
They need James and Davis to avoid injury problems, as the duo has missed a combined 38 games. Los Angeles is sitting only 3.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the sixth overall seed.
The Lakers have a significant uphill battle ahead, but the front office built a veteran-laden roster to handle that.