The 2021-22 campaign has been one of LA’s most disappointing seasons in recent memory. With a 26-30 record and a tenuous grasp on a play-in spot, many expected general manager Rob Pelinka to make at least one move. Something, anything, just to shake up a problematic roster.
Instead, Pelinka stood pat. And unlike outsiders who believe the Lakers needed to strike a trade, LA’s top front office executive is surprisingly content with how the Purple and Gold look headed into the homestretch.
The Lakers stood pat during a busy deadline day around the league
In the span of a few hours, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers swapped James Harden for Ben Simmons, the Washington Wizards landed Kristaps Porzingis, and the Milwaukee Bucks grabbed Serge Ibaka. There were also a number of other deals involving title contenders, playoff hopefuls, and the rest.
Meanwhile, Pelinka and the Lakers got stuck on yesterday’s Wordle word and missed the deadline altogether.
By the time 3 p.m. EST hit, Russell Westbrook was still a Laker. As were Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn. No three players were more involved in LA’s trade rumors over the past few weeks, yet all three made it out alive.
There’s even a middle school kid LA can select in five years after it decided to hold onto its 2027 first-round pick.
While it came as a shock at first to see the Lakers sit out the deadline, it’s not horribly surprising. Although LA tried to shop each of them in various deals, Westbrook, THT, and Nunn offered diminishing value with each passing day. Russ because of his exorbitant $47 million player option next year, Horton-Tucker because of his startling third-year decline, and Nunn because of his season-long bone bruise.
Rob Pelinka doesn’t believe the Lakers needed to force a trade
Considering the MVP-caliber season LeBron James is putting together, you’d think the front office would do everything it can to salvage this embarrassment. Even if that means sacrificing two young players in Horton-Tucker and Nunn plus a first-round pick to add talent or unload Westbrook.
Shortly after the deadline, Pelinka made it clear LA was not going to execute a trade without analyzing the total ramifications.
“It can’t be just a decision about what is best for today or best for what happened right after a loss,” Pelinka told The Athletic Thursday afternoon. “It has to be with the long term in mind and the short term. So we just didn’t find a deal that we felt made sense from all of those different perspectives.”
Pelinka also discussed the ongoing conversations taking place with James and Anthony Davis. The two superstars played a key role in LA’s controversial offseason moves, namely Westbrook’s acquisition, and reportedly had a hand in trade deadline decision making as well.
“There’s alignment there,” the GM explained. “And that’s all that matters.”
While there are legitimate roster concerns, Pelinka also highlighted LA’s durability problems. The combination of James, Davis, and Westbrook has been limited to 17 games all season due to the first two missing a combined 38 contests.
“I think if you took any three All-Stars in the NBA and your body of work was 15 games, I think that would probably be a small number of games to make any ultimate conclusions on.”
The buyout market presents Rob Pelinka and the Lakers an opportunity to seek improvements
Soon after the deadline passed, it was evident the Lakers didn’t have any last-second deals going through. But quickly, the conversation pivoted to LA seeking roster help elsewhere.
After explaining the rationale for not making a deadline deal, Pelinka confirmed LA would be aggressive in the buyout market.
“If we feel like there are roster areas to address, we still have the buyout market to see what materializes there,” Pelinka told Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “We’ve been successful in the past. … And we’re gonna continue to look for opportunities like that with the buyout market if there are ways to make the team better.”
Look for LA to target a guard, particularly a floor general to relieve Westbrook from significant minutes. Goran Dragic and Dennis Schroder are two viable options that will more than likely be available. But a roster spot must be open for either of them to join, meaning LA will be forced to cut ties with certain vets.
The Lakers had a chance to make a deadline splash and failed. But the window is still open for a desperately-needed injection of new and improved talent.