Rob Pelinka Completely Dropped the Ball Prioritizing a Future 1st-Round Pick Over LeBron James’ Ticking Clock

The Los Angeles Lakers sat out the NBA trade deadline despite nearly non-stop speculation that the team wanted to move Russell Westbrook. According to a report, LA had a deal to send Westbrook away. But general manager Rob Pelinka balked at sending out a first-round draft pick to close the transaction. LeBron James’ career is ticking away, but hey, it might be a good player in 2027.

LA played its first game since the deadline on Feb. 12, coming from ahead in the fourth quarter in a 117–115 loss to the Golden State Warriors. It was the third straight loss for the Lakers, who remain mired in ninth place in the Western Conference.

James continues to put up ridiculous numbers for a 37-year-old, but Pelinka valued a first-round selection five years down the road to getting an aging superstar the help he needs now. In the modern vernacular, that is a choice.

LeBron James isn’t blameless in the Westbrook fiasco

The Lakers are five games under .500 and have the NBA’s most challenging closing schedule. They’re in danger of becoming just the third team with LeBron James to lose more games than it wins. The others were the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2003–04 when The King was a rookie and the 2018–19 Lakers when James missed 27 games with an injured groin.

But the four-time MVP shares some of the blame for the mess in which LA finds itself enmeshed.

After all, James pushed hard for the Lakers to acquire Westbrook last summer. LA surrendered role players Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and Kyle Kuzma, along with the rights to first-round pick Isaiah Jackson, to get Westbrook and three second-round selections from the Washington Wizards.

By the time the offseason wheel stopped spinning, only James, Anthony Davis, and Talen Horton-Tucker remained from a team that finished 42–30 and landed in the play-in tournament a season ago.

LA lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns in the first round.

But instead of soaring up the standings in the West, the Lakers are trying to catch the injury-plagued Los Angeles Clippers and the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves to avoid having to win two play-in games to reach the first round and a likely rematch with Phoenix.

Pelinka had a chance to get out from under Westbrook’s ticking timebomb of a contract. He chose not to, according to a report.

The Lakers opted to keep Westbrook rather than give up a first-round pick

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the Houston Rockets offered an exchange of awful point guard contracts. The Rockets were ready to send John Wall to the Lakers for Westbrook and LA’s 2027 first-round pick (the only one the team has available after giving up two firsts and two pick swaps in 2019 to get Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.

This season, LeBron James has been hampered by injuries, missing 17 games with abdominal and knee issues. But the 37-year-old averaged 29.0 points (the most in more than a decade) to go with 7.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists. His 36.7 minutes a night is his most substantial workload since 2017–18.

If ever there was a franchise in win-now mode, it’s the Lakers. But Pelinka valued the first-round pick five years from now over shuffling a roster that isn’t working around James.

It’s not like Westbrook is unproductive. He’s averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.6 dimes in 34.6 minutes per game. But he’s shooting 47.4% from two-point range and 30.1% from beyond the arc. For the third time in four years, the 2016–17 NBA MVP is making less than 70% from the foul line.

Still, he’s scoring less than he has since his second year in the league. And he blamed the back tightness that kept him out of LA’s ugly loss at short-handed Portland on Feb. 9 on the time he spent on the bench while the Milwaukee Bucks were hammering the Lakers the previous night.

According to a tweet from Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll, Westbrook took a swipe at coach Frank Vogel after sitting out.

“I’m not accustomed to sitting down for long stretches and getting up and then like moving quickly,” Westbrook claimed. “It kind of stiffens up a little bit.”

Yet as the flames rise around him, Pelinka looks around blithely and says things are fine.

Pelinka didn’t get LeBron James the help he needs

The Lakers got LeBron James no help at the trade deadline.
The Lakers got LeBron James no help at the trade deadline. | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Pelinka, the Lakers general manager, told Bill Oram of The Athletic and other reporters he didn’t want to make a desperate move.

“It can’t be just a decision about what is best for today or best for what happened right after a loss,” Pelinka said. “It has to be with the long term in mind and the short term.”

LA’s best player is 37 and on borrowed time. The roster is such a mess that 75% of the Lakers’ cap space contains three max contracts and 12 players are on minimum deals. The only tradeable contracts the organization had were Horton-Tucker and injured Kendrick Nunn.

But given a chance to end the disastrous Westbrook experience for the price of a distant future draft pick, the organization’s brain trust said no.

Instead, the Lakers chose to throw away LeBron James’ best season in more than a decade in the hopes he’ll be able to duplicate it at age 38. While Pelinka might call that keeping the future in mind, others might consider it a form of career suicide.

We’ll probably know by mid-April which one it is.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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