Why Rob Pelinka and the Lakers were right to stay quiet during the deadline

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The trade deadline came and passed with the Lakers standing pat. With the team sporting a record around .500, some fans may have been disappointed or at least surprised at their inactivity. 

But general manager Rob Pelinka showed his wisdom as he understood that sometimes the best trades are the ones not made.

A year ago Pelinka flipped nearly half the roster, which helped turn the Lakers season completely around. Here are three reasons why he was smart to avoid moving pieces and juggling the squad this year.

Why the Lakers were smart to stand pat at the deadline:

1. No player on the market would have moved the needle

The Lakers didn't possess very much draft capital to offer in trade. And players that were available simply weren't worth the asking price.

The team was most often linked to Atlanta guard Dejounte Murray, who's certainly a nice player. But at most, he's a marginal improvement over D'Angelo Russell, who's a better three-point shooter and passer and who has experience playing with all-stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While Murray is a better defender, and probably a more consistent player, there's no telling how well he'd fit as a third option alongside the Lakers' big two.

So many names were mentioned as potential Laker targets including Bruce Brown, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Dorian Finney-Smith, Zach Levine and Royce O'Neale. Any of them might have helped. But would any of them have jolted the team into championship contention? Extremely doubtful. And this era of play-in teams and expanded playoffs has created more of a seller's market. 

In the final analysis, Pelinka was right to deem none of them worth what he would have had to give up in return. That decision turned out even better when the Lakers were able to sign guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was waived after being traded to Toronto, without giving up anything in return.

2. The re-emergence of the Lakers role players

For most of the season, while AD and LeBron competed at all-star levels and avoided any major injuries, the contributions of the supporting cast were less than expected. But signs of a turnaround are evident.

The most obvious example is Russell, whose detractors always look for any reason to denounce him. After a strong start to the season in November, he endured a horrible December and was moved to a reserve role for 7 games by Coach Darvin Ham. But since he returned to the starting lineup, he's come up gangbusters.

In those 14 games, he's averaged 24.4 points and 6.4 assists while shooting a sizzling 46.5% on his 3's (129 attempts). He's scored over 25 points eight times and under 10 just once (9 points). Not coincidentally, in those 14 games the Lakers have gone 9-5.

For the season D-Lo is averaging 17.5 points and 6.2 assists while shooting a career-high 42% from deep. And his defense has notably improved.

His teammate and good friend Austin Reaves has also experienced a resurgence. After getting off to a slow start in his first 8 games, he too was moved to the bench. Little by little, his effectiveness returned, and Ham restored him to a starter's role 20 games ago.

In that time Reaves has averaged nearly 17 points and 6 assists per game while shooting a blazing 46.8% behind the arc, raising his season's marks to 15.7, 5.4 and 36%. For good reasons, Pelinka wouldn't consider trading him for anything less than an all-star player.

Meanwhile, a star of last season's playoffs for the Lakers, Rui Hachimura, struggled through a variety of injuries for most of the season. He hadn't been able to perform at the same high level he did last postseason.

But he's also shown a bit of a turnabout lately. Rui has been more assertive and confident on the offensive end and stronger on defense. Over his last 10 games he's shot 61% from the field and 48% (on just 29 attempts) on his three's. For the season, he's averaging 11.3 points while compiling career-highs in shooting percentage, 50%, and three-point percentage, 38%.

Last summer Pelinka re-signed all three members of the "Triple R" club, Russell, Reaves and Rui. If they can continue to support AD and Bron the Lakers should start to climb in the standings without making any roster moves.

Additionally, recognition should be given to Jaxson Hayes. His energy and athleticism off the bench the past 7 games, when he's averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes, have given the frontcourt a huge boost.

3. A look into the future

With LeBron James on the team, a natural inclination is to try to win now regardless of future implications. That might be particularly true as he continues to play better than any other 39-year-old ever has in NBA history.

Yet Pelinka is well aware that LBJ's time with the Lakers is not infinite. Whether he declines his option and becomes a free agent this summer or departs the following year, the day will come when the Lakers will no longer have James on their roster.

So Pelinka has already begun to prepare for life after LeBron James. Anthony Davis is signed through 2027 while Reaves, Hachimura and the injured Jared Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent through 2026. And of course when LeBron moves on, salary cap room opens up for the Lakers.

The Lakers GM saw no need to dismantle his long-range planning, especially since the team wasn't going to add a true difference-maker anyway.

So where does this leave the Lakers? After Friday night's victory over the Pelicans, they are 28-26, in 9th place with 3 more losses than Dallas, 4 more than both New Orleans and Phoenix, and 5 more than Sacramento. 

With 28 games to go, there is plenty of time to move up in the standings if they can put together a winning streak. The addition of Dinwiddie should provide more depth and backcourt scoring, and the return of Vanderbilt, Vincent, Cam Reddish and Max Christie should all help on the defensive side and add a bit of offense.

Denver remains the favorite to win not just the West but also the NBA title. But there are signs that the Lakers might once again peak at the right time and perhaps challenge the defending champs.

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