The Whiteboard: Why this year's NBA Trade Deadline is different for the Lakers

Today on The Whiteboard, why this NBA Trade Deadline will be different for the Lakers, high-scoring bigs, Terry Rozier and more.

Jan 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) reacts
Jan 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) reacts / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On Jan. 23 last year, the Los Angeles Lakers were floundering — 22-25 and 13th in the Western Conference. It was also the day they would trade Kendrick Nunn for Rui Hachimura, the first of three massive trades they would complete before the trade deadline, adding six new players to the roster.

Several of those additions — D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt — played key roles as the Lakers made a shocking run to the Conference Finals. The Lakers clearly felt good about the changes as Hachimura, Russell and Vanderbilt were re-signed or given extensions, along with emerging star Austin Reaves. Rather than chasing a star as they had in previous offseasons, they recommitted to their core and took low-risk swings on upgrading the supporting cast, like Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Gabe Vincent and Cam Reddish.

A year later ... the Lakers are only marginally better off — 22-22, ninth in the Western Confernce, staving off rumors about the future of head coach Darvin Ham and staring at a supporting cast that is struggling.

Injuries have limited Vincent and Vanderbilt, Russell is still a defensive disaster who looks shaky in the biggest moments, Hachimura's shooting has regressed from his playoff peak and Prince, Reddish, and Wood have each displayed weaknesses large enough to mostly outweight their strengths.

And the Lakers are once again forced to look at the trade deadline as an opportunity to make or break their season.

Why this year's NBA Trade Deadline is different for the Lakers

The Lakers aren't in as deep a hole as they were at last season's deadline — the supporting cast is better and there's reason to think there can be some progression to the mean with shooting numbers of several key players. But they're also locked into this core for the next few years by virtue of the new contracts they handed out this summer and if it doesn't look like championship-ready they don't have the luxury of waiting around to see if it can grow into it.

As they approached the deadline last season they knew they'd have a reasonable amount of cap flexibility in the offseason. They could gamble and then reset in the offseason if it didn't work. They hedged by re-upping most of those players and now that cap flexibility is gone.

There were rumors today that the Lakers might prefer to wait for this coming offseason to make a move when they'd have an additional first-round pick available to trade and could try and swing a deal for a star like Trae Young or Donovan Mitchell. But that plan is incredibly fragile since they'd need to outbid plenty of other suitors and there's at least a decent chance they couldn't make a deal materialize, losing the opportunities available at this trade deadline. It's also taking a risk with LeBron.

There's no real reason to think LeBron's is ready to uproot himself and his family to change teams again. But he does have a player option for next season. Bronny James may not even enter the NBA Draft and he's probably a second-round pick at best, but there's at least a slim possibility that he ends up somewhere other than the Lakers and LeBron decides to follow him.

And while they're starting from a strong position than last year they don't have much in the way of additional assets. Austin Reaves is the only player likely to draw any real interest and the Lakers have made clear they aren't moving him.

There appears to be almost no market for D'Angelo Russell. To be fair, they found a home for Russell Westbrook last season in similarily tough circumstances but he was, at least, and expiring contract, wheareas Russell has a player option for roughly $18 million next season.

They have a few more small and theoretically interchangeable pieces to trade — reasonable contracts for players like Hachimura, Vincent, Vanderbilt, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish. But it's not clear how trading any of those players, individually or in the aggregate, get the Lakers a return that replaces their lost production and fills another hole.

Again, it's not an impossible task and in many ways the Lakers are in a better position than they were last season when several shrewd titles bright them to the brink of the NBA Finals. But the stakes are higher this season, the risks greater and they don't really have much more to work with.

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Karl-anthony Towns, Joel Embiid
Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Big men, big points

Monday night was a big night for big point totals from some of the NBA's biggest scorers. Joel Embiid dropped 70 points in a 133-123 win over the San Antonio Spurs, shooting 24-of-41 from the field and 21-of-23 from the free-throw line. His big night now gives him the franchise single-game scoring record (remember, Wilt Chamberlain played for the franchise) and he's ahead of Wilt's per-minute scoring pace in the infamous season where he averaged over 50 per game.

Embiid is on pace to lead the league in scoring for the third consecutive season and, paired with his recent head-to-head victory over Nikola Jokic, has a strong argument as the MVP frontrunner.

On the same night, Karl-Anthony Towns dropped 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets but with a very different vibe. Towns' explosive night came in a three-point loss to one of the worst teams in the league. He was just 2-of-10 in the crucial fourth quarter, benched in offensive-defensive exchanges late in the game and absolutely ripped (along with his teammates) by coach Chris Finch after the game (h/t ESPN):

“It was an absolutely disgusting performance of defense and immature basketball all the way through the game,"


Dec 29, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) dribbles against the
Dec 29, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) dribbles against the / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

QUICK HITTER: Heat land a potential game-changer in Terry Rozier

The Miami Heat jumped into the trade fray today, sending Kyle Lowry and a lottery-protected 2027 first-round pick to the Hornets for Terry Rozier.

Lowry had been playing reasonably well this season, with his shooting percentages rebounding strongly from last year's slide. But he is far from the dynamic shot-creator he was earlier in his career and plugging Rozier in for his 28.0 minutes per game could make a huge difference for the Heat offense.

Rozier is averaging 23.2 points, 6.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. He's not quite the standstill shooter Lowry is but he provides at least as much defensive upside at the point of attack. But the big difference is his ability push the pace and attack off the dribble.

So far this season, Rozier is averaging 11.2 drives per game, shooting 51.6 percent on those drives. That's nearly double what Lowry managed and a much greater level of efficiency. Putting him on the court with Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Jaime Jaquez and Bam Adabeyo gives the Heat a level of flexibility, versatility and athletic dynamism on offense they haven't been able to run out any point the past few years.

Recommended Reading:

1. The NBA's only true unicorn: "But the real differentiator for Wembanyama is the virginal presentation of his once-in-a-generation package of skills and physical tools. He can make the most vicious of basketball plays seem gentle and chaste, wide-eyed and virtuous. Wembanyama is learning the league and its dangers, while simultaneously learning the limits of his own body and skills. He is uniquely powerful and uniquely innocent, projecting not just rarity but righteousness." Barnstorming: Unicorns, griffons, centaurs and a new NBA mythic menagerie

2. This is a different Joel Embiid: "Even though the internet argued over them for the better part of the past four seasons, last season’s regular-season MVP and Finals MVP have a deep mutual admiration. It makes sense for Embiid’s evolution to be informed by studying Jokic. And there are probably lessons about the virtues of selfishness that Jokic, who didn’t unlock his greatness until he finally took the shots he previously loathed to take, learned from the Cameroonian too." Joel Embiid Is Chasing Something Bigger Than Stats

3. Sade's favorite NBA player: "This is a wholly aesthetic take and there’s no possible way I could ever get numbers to back it up, but I don’t care: There’s not a smoother-looking scorer in the NBA right now than Williams. He is wholly unbothered by what the defense is doing to him on any given possession, and just calmly puts together a series of dribble moves to get wherever he needs to do, gets there, and finishes with relative ease." Three Things I Noticed on League Pass: Jalen Williams is a smooth operator

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