/LA Lakers Played NBA Trade Deadline Right, but How Will They Fix Glaring Holes?

LA Lakers Played NBA Trade Deadline Right, but How Will They Fix Glaring Holes?

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma in action during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Los Angeles, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Making a trade in the NBA is more exciting than holding fast at the deadline, but the Los Angeles Lakers took a more prudent path on Thursday.

Was holding onto Kyle Kuzma the right decision? Check back in May or June.

Not that vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka didn’t work the phones, despite the recent Kobe and Gianna Bryant tragedy that took his best friend and goddaughter. Unfortunately, the NBA schedule wasn’t going to give him much time to grieve.

One by one, his potential targets came off the board. First, the Miami Heat made a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies to land Andre Iguodala. Next, the Los Angeles Clippers, arguably the Lakers’ greatest competition in the Western Conference, picked up veteran Marcus Morris Sr. from the New York Knicks. The Detroit Pistons held fast with Derrick Rose.

Pelinka was willing to at least discuss a Kuzma deal, but his relatively inexpensive $2 million salary made a trade difficult. To match Iguodala’s $17.2 million, the Lakers would have needed to send out $12.2 million in player salaries. Morris was slightly more manageable at $15 million; L.A. would have had to send out $10 million. Rose’s $7.3 million would have been the easiest at just $4.1 million of outgoing salary.

But the Detroit Pistons weren’t inclined to trade Rose unless he specifically asked to be moved. And while the Pistons traded Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rose remains in Detroit.

With Iguodala and Morris, the Lakers would have needed to send out Danny Green, whose $14.6 million salary would have helped make a Kuzma trade cap-worthy. A Morris trade could have been fashioned without Green, perhaps with DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels (along with Kuzma), but then the Knicks would have needed to open three additional roster spots to make it legal.

Teams are capped at 15 players (not including two-ways); a trade isn’t legal if the count is over that figure. To avoid having the Knicks receive two Clippers players in the Morris trade, New York and Los Angeles roped in the Washington Wizards to take on Clippers guard Jerome Robinson. If the Knicks were demanding that they get only Kuzma in return for Morris, the Dallas Mavericks were willing to take on Green, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

But Pelinka balked at the price. He might have been willing to do Kuzma for Morris, but not Green and Kuzma.

Chasing Iguodala posed a similar problem, in terms of contracts and roster space. The Grizzlies also coveted Justise Winslow from Miami.

So what now for the Lakers?

“[Darren] Collison and a wing defender would be nice,” one person familiar with the team’s mindset acknowledged.

Collison retired over the summer but has recently made a push to rejoin the NBA, preferably with the Lakers or Clippers.

The Lakers will look at the buyout market or free agency, which could include J.R. Smith, Marvin Williams (currently with the Charlotte Hornets), Jeff Green and Iman Shumpert. If they need a guard, Trey Burke (waived by the Philadelphia 76ers) and Jamal Crawford might be available.

That the Clippers were in on Morris wasn’t a strong enough reason for the Lakers to trade Green, a valuable defender and floor-spacer. Making their own team worse to prevent another from improving doesn’t make much sense. Kuzma for Morris is certainly arguable, but dealing Kuzma and Green was just too hard to justify.

Pelinka’s restraint showed maturity given he’s still relatively new to the job as general manager (since March 2017) and pushed through his first trade deadline without Earvin “Magic” Johnson in charge. Johnson resigned before the Lakers’ final game last season. Pelinka executed two poor trades a year ago, sending Ivica Zubac to the Clippers for Mike Muscala and Svi Mykhailiuk to the Pistons for Reggie Bullock. The Lakers missed the playoffs and both Muscala and Bullock moved on in free agency.

Whether those deals represent Pelinka’s learning curve or Johnson’s influence, Thursday’s decision to stand pat instead of overpaying is a positive sign for the Lakers moving forward.

Though beating the Clippers in the playoffs will be harder now that they have Morris, the Lakers can and probably will make additional moves before the postseason. They may need to waive a player or two—DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels or even locker room favorite Jared Dudley are candidates. 

But Kuzma will stick around with the chance to show that he can be a significant contributor for the Lakers’ postseason run.


Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.