Will Pelinka’s Trade Deadline Deals Be Enough For Lakers To Make Playoffs?
There’s no question Rob Pelinka put together a masterclass series of trades that could transform the Los Angeles Lakers from a team doomed to miss the playoffs to one with a puncher’s long-shot chance to win everything.
The questions left to be answered are whether the trades were good enough to transform the Lakers into legitimate contenders and whether the trades were done soon enough for the Lakers to have time to get to the playoffs.
Los Angeles essentially traded Westbrook, Beverley, Bryant, and three non-rotation players plus a protected first round pick for six new players, five of whom will become major players in their starting lineup and rotation.
At first glance, Pelinka clearly addressed the Lakers’ desperate needs for size, shooting, and defense while giving up only one lightly protected first round draft pick while smartly positioning the Lakers for next offseason.
The only problem is there is just 26 games left in the season for the Lakers to integrate 5 new players into their starting lineup and rotation and there’s simply no time left for Ham to play with lineups as the Lakers have to win.
Right now, the Lakers are 25–31 and 13th in the West, 2.5 games out of the #10 seed and the Play-In Tournament and 4.5 games out of the #6 seed and a guaranteed spot in the playoff with 26 games left in the regular season.
Starting tonight in San Francisco, the Lakers will finally have their full roster available, including both superstars and the players for whom they traded. To make the playoffs, the Lakers have to win almost every game.
Let’s take a closer look at Rob Pelinka’s master class for GM’s, the Lakers’ new roster and likely rotations, the team’s chances of winning their 18th NBA championship this season, and how they’re building for the future.
Rob Pelinka’s General Manager Masterclass
Rob Pelinka deserves credit for giving NBA general managers a masterclass in how to give a two-superstar team with a poorly constructed roster a shot to get into the playoffs and have a puncher’s chance to win everything.
Redeeming himself after the potentially career-ending mistake he made in trading for Russell Westbrook last summer, Rob not only got the players he needed to land but also won the negotiating wars to acquire those players.
Pelinka has received universal praise for acquiring five legitimate rotation players like Hachimura, Russell, Beasley, Vanderbilt, and Bamba who are all young and athletic for just one lightly protected Lakers’ first round pick.
The challenge in any trade is getting the right player. Rob smartly brought the Timberwolves into the Utah Jazz trade so the Lakers would be able to trade for 26-year old D’Angelo Russell rather than 35-year old Mike Conley.
Pelinka also gets high grades for stealing 23-year old #9 draft pick Rui Hachimura from the Wizards and 24-year old #6 draft pick Mo Bamba from the Magic for just expiring contracts and multiple second round picks.
Hopefully, this will be the Rob Pelinka we’re going to see going forward. These were not ‘LeBron’ moves. Nor were they ‘Jeanie’ moves. These were Rob’s smartly executed moves to improve the Lakers today and tomorrow.
They were also moves that show a head of basketball operations who may finally be in control and doing what is part of a vision and plan and not just transactional responses due to a frugal, indecisive, or short-sighted owner.
While Rob received heavy criticism for trading for Westbrook last season and poorly constructing the Lakers’ roster the past two years, he redeemed himself with a masterclass in how to give a team an extreme makeover.
Lakers’ Revamped Roster and Rotations
What immediately jumps out when you look at the depth chart for the Lakers’ roster after the trade is how much younger and bigger they’ve become. Lakers’ average age and size are now 25-years old and 6' 6".
The biggest two new additions to the Lakers will be likely be point guard D’Angelo Russell and center Mo Bamba. Russell starting at point will enable Schröder to replace Westbrook as the team’s 6th man coming off the bench.
Mo Bamba will start because the Lakers traded for him to give Anthony Davis a front court mate to lesson his workload, reduce the physicality of playing the five, and provide insurance in case Davis gets injured again.
While the Lakers have not announced who would start, the case for starting Bamba is compelling, starting with the Lakers knowing their slim hopes of winning the championship this season rest entirely on AD staying healthy. Pairing AD with a center like Bamba also gives the Lakers max positional size advantage in the front court. Davis gets to play his preferred power forward position and Ham gets to run his preferred two-bigs offense.
The above depth chart shows a projected starting lineup of 6' 4" D’Angelo Russell at the one, 6' 5" Austin Reaves at the two, 6' 9" LeBron James at the three, 6' 10" Anthony Davis at the four, and 7' 0“ Mo Bamba at the five.
That lineup averages 6' 8” in size and 7' 1" in wingspan, has 2 outstanding defenders in Davis and Reaves, 2 elite rim protectors in Davis and Bamba, and 3 high percentage 3-point shooters in Russell, Reaves, and Bamba.
The Lakers used the trades to upgrade their bench as Schroder takes over at point guard, Malik Beasley at shooting guard, Rui Hachimura at small forward, and Jarred Vanderbilt as power forward become primary backups.
Beasley is a lethal high volume 3-point shooter, Hachimura a 3/4 with size who can shoot, and Vanderbilt a 4/5 defensive Swiss Army knife. All three are good enough to challenge Mo Bamba to be the Lakers’ fifth starter.
One of the Lakers goals in rebuilding their starting lineup and rotation was to get younger, deeper, and more athletic and versatile. As you can see from the above depth chart, the Lakers extreme makeover was a huge success.
Lakers’ Chances of Winning This Season
Most observers believe the Lakers dramatically upgraded their roster but don’t believe the moves they made were good enough or done soon enough for the 25–31 Lakers to win enough games to still make the NBA playoffs.
What everybody agrees upon is the Lakers need to start winning right now or they will have no chance of making the playoffs. There’s no time to play around with various lineups or rotations. Darvin Ham needs to be decisive.
Fortunately, Ham worked closely with Pelinka in developing the Lakers’ plan to retool the team’s roster so Darvin probably already knows who’s likely to start and who’s likely to backup whom, matchups notwithstanding.
While every single of the 26 games remaining on the schedule is critical, the 25–31 Lakers first priority is win 8 of their next 10 games and raise their win-loss record to 33–33. Do that and they’re likely in the Play-In Tourney.
The Lakers’ second priority is to to win 12 of their remaining 16 games, which would push their record to 45–37, which would give them a top-6 playoff seed at best or a #7 or #8 seed in the Play-In Tournament at worst.
To make the playoffs or favorable seed in the Play-In, the Lakers will likely have to win 20 of their remaining 26 games, which at first glance seems near impossible. In other words, the Lakers have a puncher’s chance.
But really, that’s all the Lakers have wanted in this injury plagued season, a chance to see what they could do with a healthy and dominant LeBron James and Anthony Davis and a roster that complemented them.
Frankly, a healthy and dominant James and Davis with a complementary supporting roster has always been the Lakers’ championship formula. They may be a long shot but if they get to the playoffs, they could win it all.
Lakers Vision for Future
The major accomplishment by Rob Pelinka was not just making over a roster to win right now but also simultaneously establishing a bold vision for the next decade of Lakers’ basketball and building for the future.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been rightly criticized as a team that’s always in win-now mode and perennially sacrificing the future for the present. We now know all the talk about investing in the future was not just posturing.
Pelinka changed all of that with the moves he made this trade deadline. He not only fixed most of the Lakers’ size, shooting, and defensive issues but did so with bigger, younger, and more versatile and athletic players.
Aside from making over the roster, Rob also was able to get everybody in the Lakers’ front office on the same page financially, including committing to become a repeat taxpayer and to re-signing the players they traded for.
That’s a major strategic change for the Lakers, who prioritized cap space and often refused to trade for players unless on expiring contracts. The Lakers finally understand they need continuity to grow and get better.
While the Lakers are focused on building a deep and diverse team, they still have dreams of a third superstar. The trade for D’Angelo Russell was in part to get ready for a summer sign-and-trade with Dallas for Kyrie Irving.
Similarly, the all-out effort by the Lakers to keep their 2029 first round draft pick so they could pair it with their 2023 first round pick on draft day is part of a designed strategy by Pelinka and the Lakers to acquire Kyrie Irving.
While Pelinka’s received universal praise for terrific job he and his team did in transforming the roster to legitimate contender status, Rob’s greatest accomplishment was how well he’s positioned the Lakers for the future.
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