Lakers fail to make a trade at deadline, will focus on buyout market

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel confers with guard Russell Westbrook along the sideline.
Coach Frank Vogel and guard Russell Westbrook will be searching for answers to get the team into playoff position as the season progresses after the Lakers made no moves before the NBA’s trade deadline Thursday.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

An exhausted LeBron James sat in a converted locker room late Wednesday night, longing for full glass of wine and an empty bed to crash, the Lakers’ star desperately needing some sleep.

It’s all been exhausting this season for the Lakers, their inabilities to overcome clear weaknesses dooming them to life around — and right now below — the .500 mark. While Thursday wasn’t the Lakers’ last chance to make changes to its roster, it was the final one this season to make some big ones.

Instead, the Lakers did nothing.

“You can’t force another team to present yourself with a deal that is going to make your team be better,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said after the NBA trade deadline passed.


The Lakers had limited options to make the team dramatically better — or even different — thanks to the handcuffs put on the roster by their trade for Russell Westbrook before the season. With three players on maximum-contract deals and 10 on minimum contracts, only Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn had the necessary salaries to be used in any serious trade construction.

With Horton-Tucker’s inconsistency and Nunn’s injury issues — he’s still yet to play this season because of a bone bruise in his right knee — that duo was unable to attract any real interest from teams willing to return players to the Lakers to help them solve some of their deficiencies.

The Lakers’ season-long woes continued Tuesday in a loss to Milwaukee, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook a struggling star trio.

Feb. 9, 2022

In addition to those options, the Lakers also could’ve looked to deal the struggling Westbrook, though unloading his massive contract would likely have required the Lakers to include a future first-round pick, the kind of asset forfeiture that’s too much to give up for a team with so few tools to improve its roster.

Using future pieces, Pelinka decided, wouldn’t improve the team enough to make it worth it.

“We always want to put this team in the best position to win a championship, but ultimately didn’t find a deal that had net positive effect for sort of the short-term success of the team and the long-term,” Pelinka said. “And those are both things we consider. But the work was put in.”

League insiders told The Times there was little conversation, if any, about Westbrook moving through the league’s channels in the build to the noon deadline. Sources said there were discussions involving Horton-Tucker, though interest in the 21-year-old wing is still fairly limited.


That left Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office determined to take the only real path that they could, problems and all, as the team tries to salvage its season.

“I think when it comes to finding success when a team is not winning, I think the most important action is for everyone to look in the mirror and be better. That includes the front office, it includes the coaches, it includes the players,” Pelinka said. “It’s to look in the mirror and [ask] how can you be better in your job every day. How can you support the man or woman next to you and make them better each day?”

Asked specifically about coach Frank Vogel’s job status for the remainder of the year, Pelinka repeated the sentiment.

“Consistent with that answer, Frank’s our head coach, and we fully support Frank as our head coach,” Pelinka said. “And we have to continue to support one another to find success.”

The NBA trade deadline is noon on Thursday. Get the latest updates for the Lakers, Clippers and the league here with the Los Angeles Times.

Feb. 10, 2022

Stuck near the bottom of the playoff picture, the Lakers were forced to put their faith in Westbrook solving how he fits alongside James and Anthony Davis. Pelinka said he and Westbrook had spoken repeatedly about his role and sacrifices required, but he understands the challenges, especially when you consider how injuries have limited his court time with James and Davis.

“As everybody knows, Russ is a big-hearted individual. He wants to win,” Pelinka said. “And he knows we, with players as impactful and influential on the court as Anthony and LeBron are, it’s going to require sacrifices in his game and how he plays.”


Having Nunn healthy would help mitigate some of Westbrook’s struggles, but the bone bruise in his knee has kept him from playing this season. Pelinka said Thursday the team hopes to have Nunn back sometime in late March — another blow to hopes about any short-term improvement.

Pelinka said he collaborated with James and Davis on the team’s decisions at the deadline, just like he has on personnel decisions in the past.

That means any improvement will have to all come internally, with the exception of the buyout market when the Lakers could possibly improve their roster along the edges.

The big issues, though, are still the same.

“It’s important to remember that the metric of success here is you win a championship or you don’t. There’s no middle ground,” Pelinka said. “And we have to be on a pathway to put the team in position to try to compete for and win championships. And that takes the support of one another, and that’s going on internally despite what others might say.”

After losing to Portland on Wednesday, James drearily described the mood of the team approaching Thursday’s deadline.


“Obviously this is something that’s weighing on this group that we’re all trying to get through. Almost feels like it’s a fog, just fog in the air,” James said Wednesday. “And we’re all trying to see what’s on the other side of it.”

That fog cleared on Thursday, the image on the other side of the deadline a reflection of what the Lakers already are.