When the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA title in the Orlando bubble, their all-in trade sending away most of their young players and future picks for Anthony Davis a year prior was validated forever. The same cannot be said for their packaging of three important role players and a first-round pick for former MVP Russell Westbrook, after the Lakers missed the playoffs last season and look to be one of the worst teams in the league this season.
Los Angeles has started the season 2-10, sporting the league’s worst offensive rating and tied for the second worst net rating overall. There is no simple fix for this team, and even a big trade might not be enough to change their destiny. On top of that, each day LeBron James wastes away on this Lakers team is a day that he could spend competing for a fifth championship. If he is going to build an even stronger case as the greatest player of all time, James either needs a new team or an entirely revamped Los Angeles.
First and foremost, Westbrook must go. The return will not be great, but it does not matter. One trade that has been floated around for months now is to swap Westbrook for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield from the Indiana Pacers, and that still seems like it could be on the table. Indiana would likely cut Westbrook after the trade, and Los Angeles would at least receive two competent role players in exchange for someone who has been a detriment to the team since he arrived.
Even if the Hield and Turner deal no longer exists, the Lakers should do everything in their power, save trading away another first round pick, to get rid of Westbrook before his contract is up this offseason. It’s better than letting him walk for nothing. After that, it gets a lot more complicated, and it all depends on where James’ head is at.
My next thought on how to fix Los Angeles is a LeBron James trade. While he is 37 years old, I have no doubt the Lakers could at least get one or two first-round picks from a desperate contender. The Golden State Warriors or Philadelphia 76ers could certainly be viable options. Unfortunately, by signing a one-year extension this past summer, James is not eligible to be traded until after this season is over. That means, for now, the question becomes whether to trade Anthony Davis.
The fact that this team’s best three options for real improvement involve trading their three most expensive and best players says a lot about the current state of the Lakers. Yet, here we are. The Davis trade rumors have started popping up in the past few weeks and there’s an obvious reason why: he is Los Angeles’ best trade asset.
Since the Lakers are far off from contending with their current roster, it makes sense that people would start looking at a Davis trade. This is where James is integral. Since Davis is still under contract until 2025, I see no rush in trading him during the season; however, if James requests a trade next summer, I think tearing it down is the most viable option.
The Lakers would not recover their own picks but would hopefully recoup enough young players and other picks to rebuild their roster from the ground up. However, it seems unlikely the Lakers would do that unless James is dead set on leaving, and I do not blame them.
For James, though, this could spell the end of title contention with him as a real star. He is still playing at an All-Star level this season, but his fall-off is happening, even if it is slow. He’s shooting below 49% from the field for the first time since 2008, shooting 24% from three, and most alarmingly, shooting the fewest free throws per game in his career.
It’s clear he cannot get to the rim as well as he once did, and if the three-point shooting does not improve, we could see his decline sooner than expected. If he’s stuck on the Lakers next season, there likely won’t be enough time for that extra title he’s been chasing.
Tim Brennan is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. Around the Association appears online and in print every other week.
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