The Los Angeles Lakers are well under .500, don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and with the 2018 NBA trade deadline bearing down faster by the day, one of the biggest remaining questions is whether or not president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka will make a deal.
The front office pairing is in their first full year together, but given that one of Johnson’s first moves after seizing power last year was to trade veteran guard Lou Williams for an extra first-round pick, and how quickly and decisively he and Pelinka pulled the trigger in sending D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in order to get them to take on Timofey Mozgov’s albatross of a contract, speculation has run rampant about what moves the two will make by Feb. 8.
But while there have been scattered reports that the Lakers are making Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr. and Luol Deng available to teams, Pelinka explained during an appearance on Spectrum SportsNet’s “Connected With…” that he and Johnson weren’t rushing to make a trade this year:
“I don’t know if this is the perfect metaphor but maybe a nod back to Dr. Buss, who we all know loved to play cards. The trade deadline, you almost have 30 GMs sitting around a big card table and they all have their deck of cards. What you’re trying to do as a player is analyze the other 29 players. What may they have, what may they move, what may be their next move in this card game.
“Sometimes two players across the table do a trade and reshuffle cards, that changes the scenarios you’re looking at. So, right now, I think everyone is assessing the other 29 teams and what they might do. Usually you see in that last week is when most of the major moves are made. And again, our goal is singular. It’s climbing up the Larry O’Brien trophy mountain and getting to the top. Along the way, we have to show improvement. We’ve got to make moves to get there, we know that. We’re constantly assessing that, and if there’s things this trade deadline that help us take steps up the mountain on that journey, we’ll absolutely do them. But if those things don’t present itself, then we’ll stay the course with what we have.”
Similar to additional comments on free agency Pelinka made in the same interview, this could be the front office’s way of trying to get some leverage back since their intentions have been leaked and discussed with plenty of frequency.
However, also just like those comments, Pelinka’s mindset of playing the long game makes sense. The Lakers don’t have any incentive to tank and surely want to win as many games as possible in order to impress free agents, so they don’t have as much pressure to jettison veterans unless they can get an unexpectedly good haul for them.
The Lakers are also far enough from the playoff picture that they can’t really talk themselves into making potentially short-sighted, win-now moves just to get the positive headlines and experience for their young team that a postseason appearance would generate.
With both of those motivations off the table, it does seem more likely than not that the Lakers will stand pat when the February deadline rolls around. At least unless teams come with more enticing offers than expected for the likes of Clarkson, Randle or even a veteran such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Barring those unexpected outcomes, the Lakers will instead probably wait for free agency this summer to take their first real swing at getting their team climbing back towards the mountaintop of contention.
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