NBA trade season tips off early – Lakers need to make huge move or LeBron’s itchy feet could flare up again


It’s that time of year when NBA diehards start firing up the trade machine and pondering which star can be plucked from another franchise to disrupt the title race. 

New York and Toronto tipped off trade season with the OG Anunoby for RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley deal but if the Knicks think they’re going to be serious title contenders, it will take a lot more than that to go deep in the playoffs. 

Anunoby is a fine defensive wing who can score at a decent clip but they need another player like him but better plus some size in the frontcourt to have any hope of capping their title drought at an even half-century. 

As is often the case with a team involving LeBron James, especially when that team is the LA Lakers, they are at the centre of many trade hypotheticals. 

Treading water at 17-18 in 10th spot in the West, the first step in making the playoffs is looking dicey for LeBron’s Lakers let alone getting up to speed with champions Denver or the surging Timberwolves and Thunder in their conference. And that’s with LeBron and Anthony Davis barely missing any matches.

They’ve lost three straight, capped off by a 110-96 home loss to Miami who were without Jimmy Butler. The Lakers have won just three of their past 12 outings.

LeBron James. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After winning the inaugural NBA Cup in-season tournament, the Lakers have looked lethargic and that’s almost certain to be the only time they touch a trophy in 2023-24.

LeBron just turned 39 and is still an unstoppable force – although not as often as previous years – there’s no point in the Lakers keeping their powder dry for a couple of years down the track.

They basically have an unprotected 2029 first-round pick or an enticing enough prospect in Austin Reaves they can trade and not much else of value to bring to the negotiating table. 

That is, if they consider Davis untouchable. 

The chances of the Lakers adding a star in a mid-season trade that could transform them onto a title trajectory are pretty low. 

If it wasn’t LeBron and his frantic search for a fifth championship ring in the twilight of his career, any sensible front office would look at Davis, at 30 and still with a few All-NBA quality years left in him, and think it’s time to lop The Brow.

General manager Rob Pelinka is no palooka and most of the moves he’s made in recent seasons have worked out but the Russell Westbrook deal, which led to them sending their 2027 first-round pick to Utah to get off his contract, is going to keep costing them.

If they had two first-rounders up their sleeve, they could potentially be in the market for some of the biggest names who could be on the trading bloc like Clevelan star Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s Lauri Markannen or Hawks guard Dejounte Murray. 

With one pick they could perhaps land Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan from Chicago, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam or Malcolm Brogdon when Portland jettison talent in the pursuit of the draft lottery but while they will be improvements on the current support crew around LeBron, they’re not going to vault the Lakers up the standings. 

Lauri Markkanen. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Then you’re looking at the likes of injury-prone Charlotte veteran Gordon Hayward, an outside threat in Detroit’s Bojan Bogdanovic or Indiana’s Buddy Hield, or Blazers wing Jerami Grant and they will have even less impact.

The low-key option they would love to get back is Bulls guard Alex Caruso but every other playoff contender would be in the hunt for his value-for-money $9m annual deal so the Lakers would likely be outbid in that scenario.

It looks forlorn for the Lakers in trying to engineer a move to appease LeBron. 

And it’s shaping up to a similar scenario to his last year in Cleveland, the second time around, when he wanted the franchise to cash in their final few chips to pursue veteran stars and the Cavaliers wanted to invest in youth. 

There is the looming issue of his son, Bronny, potentially entering the NBA next season after he has recovered from his scary cardiac incident last year. 

LeBron and Bronny James. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Most draft projections from college experts project that he will be taken late in the first round.

If the Lakers don’t draft him then his old man has a player option – worth no less than $51 million – on his contract for next season. 

In true daddy LeBron fashion, he’s basically saying to the Lakers “don’t make me use it” so he can become a free agent and join another team for one final fling with his son. 

Interestingly, the deadline for him to take up his option is after the draft in June but just before free agency. 

This season’s NBA trade deadline is just over a month away on February 8 so the Lakers will be under the pump to chart their course either way whether they go all in on giving their franchise star the extra firepower he craves, make minor moves in the hope the team catches lightning in a bottle or retain their first-round pick to ensure the post-LeBron era isn’t a catastrophe.

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