On Monday, the Lakers completed their first trade of the season, signing Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura. The move is solid in a vacuum: three second-round picks and one recent lottery pick for salary-fill. It’s hard to ask for better, but it’s hard to argue that Rui Hachimura solved this team’s woes on his own. For all the upside he offers, he’s inconsistent on both ends of the “3-D” spectrum, two of the traits this team needs most.
If Hachimura is the Lakers’ only option at the end of next month’s trade deadline, their fortunes may not change much. But what if he’s the first domino before the deadline? Then things got more interesting. Introducing Rui Hachimura on Tuesday, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka reiterated what he said at the start of training camp: While the Lakers don’t intend to trade for trade’s sake, he’s prepared to offer if the right The trade came up with the team’s 2027 and 2029 first-round picks.
“I think the Lakers’ consideration is whether to win a championship or not,” Pelinka Say“There’s no intermediate or incremental growth. So when we analyze the opportunity, we’ve got to do it through that lens. I said at the beginning of the season that if there’s an opportunity to go all the way to the end and win a championship championship, if we feel like there’s resources there, We wouldn’t have caught it. But at the same time, it’s totally unwise to fire bullets early and then only have it when you have a better champion move. So it’s a very delicate calculus…. . . If we see a move that makes us the front runners for another title, an 18th title here, we’ll make it. If that move doesn’t come up, we’ll be smart and do it later.”
The specificity of this language is interesting. There probably won’t be any trades that make the Lakers title leaders, and just because no team is below .500 halfway through the season will actually ever be considered a title leader. The Lakers have a flawed roster that may take more than one transfer or trade deadline to fix.
However, the Western Conference is more open than ever. Heading into Tuesday, the teams in sixth and thirteenth were within one game of each other in the loss column. The Lakers have been in this form while dealing with more injuries than every team in front of them. They still have arguably the best duo in the NBA, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Just because of their existence, the Lakers are not far from the championship.
In that sense, Pelinka’s definition of “frontrunner” becomes crucial. If he’s waiting for a superstar to emerge and make the Lakers the clear champions, then he won’t make a move because such a move won’t come. But if he operates on the logic that healthy James and Davis have gotten the Lakers relatively close, trading those picks for two or three high-end role players might be enough to get the Lakers in the inner circle.
Further complicating matters is the wage component of the major industries. Between Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley alone, the Lakers now have $60 million in expiring salary available for trade. Those contracts disappear after the season. The Lakers could replace them by staying above the salary cap and re-signing their own players to new contracts or creating roughly $34 million in salary. Neither scenario gives them the salary flexibility that these two expiring big deals do. If the Lakers plan to improve by trading draft picks, now might be the time to do so.
That’s especially true given James’ age. The 38-year-old striker isn’t getting any younger. He’s now an All-NBA player. That may not be the case a year from now. Even if you wait until the offseason for a better trade, any value gained could be lost to Time Old Man. Nothing the Lakers do will matter if James isn’t one of the best players in the world. He is today. There is no guarantee of tomorrow.
The deadline is a little over two weeks away. There is plenty of time to show the right deal. If it does, Pelinka said he’s ready to make a move.