Lakers’ Pelinka would trade first-round picks if deal ‘makes us favorites for another championship’

Lakers’ Pelinka would trade first-round picks if deal ‘makes us favorites for another championship’

The Lakers made their first trade of the season Monday when they acquired Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura. The move was solid in a vacuum: three second-round picks and salary padding 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, alone, solves this team’s problems. As much as he offers, he is inconsistent on both ends of the “3 and D” spectrum, which happen to be the two traits this team needs the most.

If, by the end of next month’s trade deadline, Hachimura is the Lakers’ only addition, his luck probably won’t change much. But if he is the first domino on an active deadline? Then things get more interesting, and in introducing 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 trade for trade’s sake , is prepared to offer both the team’s 2027 and 2029 first-round picks if the right trade comes along.

“I think the calculation for the Lakers is to win a championship or not,” Pelinka saying. “There’s no intermediate or incremental growth. So when we look at opportunities, we have to look at it through that lens. And I said this at the beginning of the season, if there’s an opportunity to go all the way and win a championship, there’s no resource that we can hold on to if we feel like that’s there. But at the same time, the most unwise thing to do would be to shoot a bullet early and then not have it later when you have a better championship move to make. So that’s a really delicate calculation. … If we see a move that puts us as favorites to get another championship, the 18th here, we’ll do it. And if that move doesn’t show up, we’ll do it. I’ll be smart and do it another time.”

That language is interesting in its specificity. There likely won’t be a deal that would make the Lakers championship leaders simply because no team that is under .500 more than half the season will realistically be considered a championship leader. The Lakers have a flawed roster that likely needs more than a single move or trade deadline to fix.

However, the Western Conference is more open than ever. Entering Tuesday, the teams in sixth and 13th place were separated by just one game in the loss column. The Lakers have stuck to that mix while dealing with more injuries than almost every team ahead of them. They still have arguably the best duo in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. His mere presence could put the Lakers within striking distance of the title.

In that sense, Pelinka’s definition of “principal” becomes critical. If he’s waiting for a superstar to become available that will make the Lakers obvious champions, then he won’t make a move because no such move will come along. But if he’s operating on the logic that a healthy James and Davis already bring the Lakers relatively close, trading those picks for two or three high-level role players could be enough to bring the Lakers into the inner circle.

To further complicate matters is the salary component of a major trade. Between Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley alone, the Lakers have $60 million in expiring salaries to use in trades right now. 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 creating roughly $34 million in salaries. Neither scenario gives them the salary flexibility that those two big expiring deals have. If the Lakers plan to improve by trading picks, now is probably the time to do it.

That’s especially true considering James’ age. The 38-year-old striker is not getting any younger. He is an All-NBA player right now. That might not be the case in a year. Even if waiting until the offseason produces a better trade, any value gained could be lost to Father Time. Nothing the Lakers do matters if James isn’t one of the best players in the world. He is today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

The deadline is a little over two weeks away. There is plenty of time for the right deal to come along. If he does, Pelinka says that he is ready to act on it.

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