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Should the Lakers make a trade? That’s the big question

Laker guards Patrick Beverley, left, and Russell Westbrook talk during a break in the action
Patrick Beverley, left, and Russell Westbrook talk during a break in the action.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Hey everyone and welcome back the Lakers newsletter. I’m Dan Woike, and I apologize for the brief hiatus as I wrapped up a big Darvin Ham profile. I’d love if you checked it out — it’s exclusive to subscribers, but $1 will get you access for six months.

Anyway, let’s get down to the Lakers and the topic of conversation that’s most surrounding them.

The tightest possible corner

Before this season started, The Times spoke with multiple NBA scouts and executives about the Lakers and their best plan of attack. At the time, Russell Westbrook was viewed as a $47-million albatross with an uncertain role on the team — the primary trade piece the team could use to bring back two or more rotation players in a deal that could end up costing them both of their first-round picks available to be traded — 2027 and 2029.

The team decided to wait — to see if the market would come to them a little more with asking prices, conceivably, dropping as teams learned more about themselves and as the schedule progressed more toward the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

There hasn’t been the aggressive race to the bottom that some people expected after Victor Wembanyama wowed NBA folks in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas, cooler heads, perhaps, prevailing once teams again realized the more leveled odds in the NBA lottery.

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It’s led to a pretty quiet trade market — some rumbling here or there about a deal without much action behind it.

It seemed assured that, at some point, the Lakers would probably have to act — especially with its stars playing well after a brutal start.

But here, now with more than a third of the season behind them, Westbrook has emerged as a player pretty important to the team. LeBron James has been banged up. And Anthony Davis’ recent foot injury, which is being handled with so much vague language that it’s tough to get anyone to confirm that he still has both a right and a left foot, muddies the waters for the team’s future even more.

It’s put the Lakers, somehow, in an even tighter spot than in the summer — pretty incredible considering how rock-and-a-hard-place they were heading into camp. On one hand, the Lakers are on the perimeter of the playoff picture and they have clear needs, especially with Davis out. On the other, Davis is out — again — and the team’s clear needs that have pushed them to the perimeter of the playoff picture make team execs wonder whether or not the present is worth sacrificing the future for.

The Times contacted rival executives to get a sense of whether they thought Davis’ injury would make the Lakers more aggressive on the trade market.

While there was some hedging — “depends on the severity [of the injury]” one Eastern Conference GM said — the majority of personnel people believed the team would push for a deal.

“[They’re] within striking distance and [have] avenues to improve,” one rival executive said. “Have to.”

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Another rival said that if negotiated properly, he felt the Davis injury could actually help the Lakers’ position in trade talks. The team’s sought leverage in talks since the summer, with much of the league viewing them as “desperate” to make some kind of trade.

That, plus the early-season timing of any talks, has kept the asking price really high. This executive thought a Davis injury of any real severity would give the Lakers leverage they haven’t had since the summer by giving them a very real reason to shut down talks and focus on the offseason.

That logic was met with some skepticism in house, but it’s not without some merit.

As far as whom the Lakers might target? That’s still all over the place.

There are people within the organization very intrigued by New York Knicks forward Cam Reddish — a 6-foot-8, 23-year-old wing — who would give the Lakers size on the perimeter, a massive need. He’s also a former lottery pick, the kind of reclamation project the Lakers have had some success with this year with a player like Lonnie Walker IV.

League sources say the Knicks are seeking a protected first-round pick for Reddish (they sent one to Atlanta in the deal to acquire him — and the Hawks subsequently used it in their trade for Dejounte Murray). Reddish isn’t currently in the Knicks rotation so the asking price is expected to eventually dip.

There are still evaluators who believe in Reddish’s talent and think that the right teammate — say, someone with the gravitas of James — could unlock the potential teams saw when they tabbed him as a top prospect in the 2019 NBA dDraft.

Now, does this qualify as a big move? Probably not — and certainly not the type of talent injection the Lakers would need to make up for an injured Davis or the preexisting roster issues.

The general sense is that asking prices around the league could dip in January once teams have a clearer handle on their future (keep an eye on Chicago). But like so much, this means two things for the Lakers.

One, in a few weeks, they might have a better sense of who could be available at a reasonable cost. But two, in a few weeks, the Lakers could be struggling without their star big man — making a deal simultaneously more urgent and less necessary (because, maybe, the hole will be too deep).

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The right decision is certainly not obvious — and just maybe doesn’t exist at all.

Song of the week

Alone on Christmas Day” by Phoenix and Bill Murray

I’ll be in Dallas for the Lakers’ Christmas date with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, missing the holidays at home. And no song captures that feeling better than this wonderfully strange debut between my favorite French dance-rock group and the guy from “Scrooged.”

In case you missed it

Jeanie Buss and Jay Mohr confirm they’re engaged to be married

Hernández: Anthony Davis injury shouldn’t deter Lakers: Trade those draft picks

Elliott: With Anthony Davis injured, Lakers need to show same determination as Thomas Bryant

Plaschke: Lakers’ painful loss to the Celtics proved it’s actually worth adding help now

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis thrilled for Brittney Griner: ‘It’s amazing’

Darvin Ham survived the streets, a stray bullet and intense grief to coach the Lakers

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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