The Los Angeles Lakers have already reshaped their roster several times since signing LeBron James in 2018. Now, it appears as if they're preparing for their first major in-season move of the James era. While the trade deadline is still two months away, trade talks are beginning to heat up league-wide as the majority of free agents signed this offseason will become eligible for trades on Wednesday (Dec. 15). Two names that the Lakers are interested in, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, are Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons and Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant. Both come with significant complications.
In Simmons' case, the issue is money. He will make more than $33 million this season, and tax-paying teams like the Lakers can absorb no more than 125 percent of the salary they send out in a deal, plus $100,000. Doing so with one of LeBron James, Anthony Davis or Russell Westbrook would be doable, but for now, a deal involving any of those three appears unlikely. The problem is that the Lakers have virtually no matching salary to include outside of that trio. To reach the threshold necessary to acquire Simmons without breaking up their top three, the Lakers would have to send out Talen Horton-Tucker (who makes $9.5 million), Kendrick Nunn (who makes $5 million) and a staggering eight players who make the veteran's minimum (which counts for $1,669,178 against the cap). Obviously, giving away two-thirds of the roster in-season is not feasible for a multitude of reasons.
Grant is far more attainable financially. The Lakers could match on his $20 million salary by offering Horton-Tucker, Nunn and a single minimum-salary player. The concern with Grant is that he is expected to miss up to six weeks with torn ligaments in his thumb. Trading for him would be a significant risk given the win-now nature of this season for the Lakers. Still, considering the finances involved and Grant's relatively clean fit as a stretch-four on a roster devoid of forwards, he would be the far likelier acquisition of the two players Charania listed.
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Still, a major move is probably at least a month away. Horton-Tucker cannot be traded until Jan. 15 because he was re-signed using Bird Rights to a deal above the minimum with a raise greater than 20 percent. The Lakers would then have almost another month after that before the Feb. 10 deadline to decide if such a move is warranted. At 15-13, the Lakers have unquestionably disappointed thus far this season, but are trending in the right direction now that LeBron James is healthy.
Still, star-power was never the issue for this roster. The concerns revolved around everything else. The Lakers traded most of their depth to land Westbrook and are now devoting two-thirds of their roster, 10 of 15 slots, to players making minimum salaries. That has had a significant impact on their defense, specifically, which has fallen from No. 1 last season to No. 11 this season. In a perfect world, the Lakers would target defenders that can shoot on the trade market. Grant fits that bill. Simmons doesn't, but is so transcendent in every regard aside from shooting that the Lakers might be willing to make an exception in his case.
The primary question for the Lakers entering trade season has been their willingness to include the 20-year-old Horton-Tucker in a deal. They held him out of talks for All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry a season ago, but with far less to work with now and a truncated timeline due to the addition of Westbrook and James' age, they might need to reconsider. Horton-Tucker has had an up-and-down season since recovering from thumb surgery. He averaged over 23.3 points in his first three games, but after James returned and he was relegated to a smaller role, his numbers dipped. He's back up to 13 points over his past four games, two of which have come without Anthony Davis in the lineup. While his talent is apparent, Horton-Tucker has struggled to mesh with high-usage stars this season. His value comes primarily with the ball in his hands.
Whether or not that will lead them to a trade is not yet clear. The Lakers are balancing a number of different priorities this season. James only has so many years left as a franchise-altering superstar. Westbrook has still never won a championship, and the Lakers represent perhaps his last real chance at doing so. Rob Pelinka has tried to maintain some semblance of balance between the present and the future with his moves since taking over the team, and this season, the loss of Alex Caruso suggests that ownership has imposed budgetary limitations as well. All of those factors will come into play between now and the deadline, but what has become apparent in Charania's reporting is that the Lakers are not satisfied with the roster that they have. They are going to explore moves between now and February.