The Lakers made their first trade of the season on Monday when they landed Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura. The move was solid in a vacuum: three second-round picks and salary filler for a recent lottery pick at a premium position. It’s hard to ask for much better, but it would be hard to argue that Hachimura, single-handedly, solves this team’s woes. As much upside as he offers, he’s inconsistent on both ends of the “3-and-D” spectrum, which happen to be the two traits this team needs most.
If, at the end of next month’s trade deadline, Hachimura is the only pick the Lakers have, their fortunes likely won’t change much. But if it is the first domino at an active deadline? Then things get more interesting, and in bringing in Hachimura on Tuesday, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka reiterated what he said at the start of training camp: while the Lakers don’t plan to deal for the sake of dealing, he is happy to offer both. first round pick for 2027 and 2029 teams if the right trade comes around.
“I think it’s the calculus for the Lakers to win a championship or not,” Pelinka said. “There is no in between or incremental growth. So, when we analyze opportunities, we have to do it through the lens. championships, there is no capacity that we will hold on to if we feel that is there But at the same time, it is the absolutely unwise thing to do would be to shoot a bullet early and not have it later when you have a better branch to move to So that’s a very delicate calculus… If we see a move that gives us priority to get another championship, the 18th one here, we’ll do it. And if that move doesn’t come, we’ll be smart and do it later.”
That language is interesting in its specificity. The Lakers championship frontrunners are probably not a deal because any team that is below .500 more than halfway through the season is never going to be realistically considered a championship frontrunner. The Lakers have a flawed roster that likely requires more than a single move or trade deadline to fix.
However, the Western Conference is more open than ever. Entering Tuesday, the sixth- and 13th-place teams were separated by one game in the loss column. The Lakers stayed in that mix as they dealt with more injuries than just about every team they faced. They still have arguably the best duo in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. His presence alone could put the Lakers within striking distance of the title.
In that sense, Pelinka’s definition of “frontrunner” becomes crucial. If he is waiting for a superstar to become available that makes the Lakers Champions clear, he is not going to make a move because no such move is going to present itself. But if it’s operating under the logic that a healthy James and Davis already get the Lakers pretty close, trading those picks for two or three high-end role players might be enough to get the Lakers into the circle inside
Another complex matter is the salary part of major trading. Between Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley alone, the Lakers currently have $60 million in expiring salaries to use in trades. Those contracts are gone after the season. The Lakers can replace them by staying above the cap and re-signing their own players to new contracts or by creating about $34 million in salaries. Neither situation gives them the salary flexibility of those two big expiring deals. If the Lakers plan to improve on trading picks, now is probably the time to do so.
That is especially true considering James’ age. The 38-year-old isn’t getting any younger. He is currently an All-NBA player. This may not be the case in a year’s time. Even waiting for a better trade to come out of the offseason, any value gained could be lost to Father Time. The Lakers don’t care if James isn’t one of the best players in the world. It is today. There is no guarantee tomorrow.
The deadline is just over two weeks away. There is plenty of time for the right market to present itself. If he does, Pelinka says he’s ready to act on it.