Since the Lakers recorded a rousing overtime victory in Oklahoma City on January 17th, they’ve lost three straight. They’re now two games back of the Clippers for the 8th and final playoff spot with just 33 games remaining. Point guard Lonzo Ball is out for at least the next six weeks, though it might be as many as 10.
When you combine LeBron missing a career-high 15 straight games due to a groin injury with the fact that the Lakers have the fourth-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA – to be fair, the three teams ahead of them all reside in the West – there are nervous NBA fans (and TV executives!) worried that LA might miss the playoffs.
Time to swing a trade! Fire Luke Walton!
Go on the internet, turn on the radio or the TV this week, and there’s rampant speculation: The Lakers should sell the three young guys – Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball; though it’s absurdly dumb to speculate about Lonzo, since nobody is trading for him right now – and make a run at Anthony Davis or Bradley Bealor someone just to ensure LA makes the playoffs.
It’s all very silly.
This is what one month will do: December 25th, Christmas night, the Lakers defeat the Warriors, and are 4th in the West. Interesting, it was the last time Lonzo, LeBron and Rajon Rondo all played. I maintain the Lakers will be fine and should do nothing.
Firing Walton now will accomplish zero. Making a run at Marc Gasol is interesting, but he’s 34, and not the same defensive force he used to be (12th among centers in DRPM). Jimmy Butler and the 76ers look like a clunky fit, but its difficult to imagine them trading him before the deadline. And why sell the young guys when Butler could pick a different destination in July?
There will be a ton of rumors about the Lakers and “potential” trades for the next three weeks, and it’ll be great for web traffic and tremendous TV and radio content just as football is ending. But for the irrational fans who are panicked, here’s the reality: If the Lakers can get to the 6th or 7th spot, they’ll face someone like Denver or Oklahoma City or Portland in the first round, and against all three of those teams, the Lakers will have the best player on the court.
The Nuggets are a very good team with one player among their top six with any playoff experience: Paul Millsap. His stories from Atlanta about getting dominated by LeBron will get plenty of run if the matchup happens.
OKC and Portland have elite stars in Paul George and Damian Lillard, but one wonders if Russell Westbrook will shoot the Thunder out of a playoff series, and how the Blazers perform in the playoffs after getting swept by Anthony Davis and the Pelicans last year.
And the 6th or 7th seed is key – it means you’ll also avoid the top-seeded Warriors until the Conference Finals.
The reality: Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and LeBron are very unlikely to do anything on the trade front. The smarter, big-picture move is to keep your powder dry for the offseason.