Struggling Lakers right to stand pat at trade deadline

Lakers made the right call by not making a move before the NBA trade deadline

The fans may be irate, but the Lakers made the right call in holding pat on Thursday at the NBA's annual trade deadline.

Almost 40 players changed teams, more if future draft picks are taken into consideration.  Even the Lakers' obligation to the Phoenix Suns, potentially a first-round pick (top-five protected) in June, was sent east to the Philadelphia 76ers in a complex, multi-team trade.

Yet the Lakers, at a woeful 13-40, did nothing.

Unfortunately, for those frustrated fans, nothing was the correct play.

Any move that might have helped the Lakers improve this season only puts that first-round pick at risk.

Even where the Lakers sit, with the fourth-worst record in the league, they still have a 17.2% chance of seeing their pick fall to sixth, and to the 76ers.  Improving, by losing, to third in the lottery chase gives the Lakers a 96% chance at staying in the top five -- and a 31.3% chance at climbing to a top-two selection.

If the Lakers can "catch" two of the three teams below, including the New York Knicks (10-43), Minnesota Timberwolves (11-42) and Philadelphia 76ers (12-41), they'll guarantee themselves a 2015 first-rounder with a bottom-two overall record.

Coach Byron Scott is still trying to push his players to win games, but the team is young, injured, inexperienced and has a talent gap that bodes well for their positioning in June's draft.

Some of the top names in the draft include Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns and center Willie Cauley-Stein, Ohio State combo guard D'Angelo Russell and University of Arizona's small forward Stanley Johnson.  Point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay is playing in China.

The Lakers also have the a first-round pick from the Houston Rockets (36-17), which will likely fall somewhere in the mid-20s, acquired as part of the Jeremy Lin trade last summer.  In addition to their own second-rounder, which would currently slot at 34, the Lakers may also get the Clippers' second-rounder -- but only if it's in the 51-55 range (also via the Lin trade with Houston).

So the Lakers didn't trade point guard Steve Nash and his $9.7 million expiring contract.  They didn't find a return for forward/center  Jordan Hill, or move off of  Nick Young's four-year, $21.3 million contract.

None would have brought back substantial value, not without the Lakers sending out precious draft considerations.

In addition to the pick they now owe the 76ers, the Lakers still have an obligation to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard (since departed), a first rounder that will convey two years after the selection to Philadelphia (lottery-protected).

Point guard Goran Dragic was dealt by the Suns to the Miami Heat, but he'll still be a free agent this summer.  The Lakers have no business sending away draft picks for a player they can pursue in July.

There's a strong chance Dragic will re-sign in Miami, but then the Lakers can turn their sights to Rajon Rondo if he doesn't want to stay with the Dallas Mavericks.  The Denver Nuggets were rumored to have point guard Ty Lawson on the market, perhaps the Lakers can pursue a trade angle down the road -- but not now.

First the Lakers need to learn their draft position.  They could have in the neighborhood of $13 million-$25 million in cap room, depending on the team's option to keep Hill another season at $9 million.

The Lakers may have a successful summer shopping for a free agent, but even if they don't, the NBA's new national television deal projects to dramatically raise the salary cap for the summer of 2016 -- the year that Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant hits free agency.  If properly managed, the Lakers may find they have enough cap room for two or even three maximum-salaried free agents.

The time isn't right for the Lakers to make major improvements.  If they're going to lose, they need to be the best at what they do, and lose big.

It's unclear whether veteran power forward Carlos Boozer or point guard Jeremy Lin would like buyouts before March, to join teams in need for the playoffs -- but even if they're on the roster through April, Scott can continue to swing minutes to the team's younger players such as Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, Ed Davis, Ryan Kelly and Jordan Clarkson.

The moves the Lakers made in recent years have not paid dividends.  Nash never fully recovered from a knee injury in his second game with the team.  Howard left for Houston after a season. Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles', and injured his knee and shoulder in successive years.

The team has gone nowhere over two straight seasons.  There was no short-sighted move by the deadline that was going to change that.

The Lakers need wins in the draft and free agency, but neither can happen in February.

The fans just want the Lakers back in contention, but the only way up is to keep going down, at least until the summer.

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

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