With LeBron James out with an ankle injury, the Lakers are frustratingly thin on the perimeter. Dennis Schroder is their only true shot creator left, and even with James, the Lakers were one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA. The Lakers won the 2020 championship primarily with defense, but the playing field is rapidly shifting beneath them. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks posted the most efficient offensive season in NBA history by scoring 115.9 points per 100 possessions. This season, five teams are topping that. The Lakers might need more firepower to keep up.
They're on the prowl, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, who reported on "The Jump" that the Lakers are looking for wing talent. However, there's one slight snag. The Lakers aren't yet willing to give up prized youngster Talen Horton-Tucker or top draft picks in such a trade, according to Windhorst. Things can always change leading up to the deadline, but at the moment, that is complicating possible trades.
"The Lakers have been working the phone since the LeBron injury looking for wing players," Windhorst said. "The problem is that they don't really have a whole heck of a lot to offer. They have discussed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in trade scenarios, but from what I am told they are not willing to include a draft pick, or their best young player, which is Talen Horton-Tucker, and without those two things to grease, I don't know if they're going to get the kind of wing that could make a difference."
The Lakers have been rewarded for their caution when it comes to youth in the past. They discussed trading Kyle Kuzma at the 2020 trade deadline but ultimately held off. Kuzma helped them win the championship in the Orlando bubble, and has now evolved into one of their best overall players. If they are similarly optimistic about Horton-Tucker's future, holding onto him makes sense. He has averaged 8.1 points in 18.3 minutes per game so far this season, but has flashed greater potential when given the chance.
It should be noted that Horton-Tucker will be a restricted free agent this offseason. With Alex Caruso, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder also expiring, the Lakers are going to get very expensive next season if they keep this roster together. This season's team is already in the luxury tax.
Their willingness to include Caldwell-Pope in trades makes sense in the context of their salary structure. The Lakers have only five players that make even $4 million. James and Anthony Davis are untouchable. Dennis Schroder is the point guard of the future. That leaves Caldwell-Pope, at $12 million, and Harrell, at $9.5 million, whom they are reportedly open to dealing. If they want to bring in a big salary, in all likelihood, one of them needs to be involved.
The Lakers still have more than a day to strike a deal. For the right upgrade, virtually anyone aside from the two superstars should be available. However, this reporting indicates that the Lakers aren't going to make a trade for its own sake. If they give up anyone of consequence, it will be for a player that they believe is a difference-maker.