Lakers NBA Trade Deadline Preview: Will Luke Walton and Magic Johnson Buy or Sell Before February 8?

The Los Angeles Lakers are not winning an NBA Championship this season. At a hefty six-and-a-half games behind the eighth-placed Denver Nuggets, and with three teams to jump over, the Lakers aren’t even making the playoffs.

There’s no shame in that, of course, in a season that was always meant to be about rebuilding. The Lakers have had some good team performances, quite a few awful ones, some brilliance and rawness from Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and more interference from LaVar than anyone would care to document.

What, then, does a team with a 17-29 record that’s going nowhere this season, at least, do at the trade deadline? The Lakers can expect to get better next season purely on the logic that Ball and Ingram will progress in their sophomore years. They will also, almost certainly, try and throw an obscene amount of money in the summer at a pending free agent—possibly LeBron James.

The Lakers Nation blog summed up the strange halfway house Magic Johnson’s team finds itself in during the run-up to February 8. “The Lakers don’t have any incentive to tank and surely want to win as many games as possible in order to impress free agents, so they don’t have as much pressure to jettison veterans unless they can get an unexpectedly good haul for them,” Harrison Faigen wrote Sunday. You’d think the Lakers would try and dump Luol Deng’s salary if they could, but the 32-year-old won’t have any suitors right now. “Los Angeles has given up hope on unloading Luol Deng's contract in a trade because it would simply necessitate attaching too many draft assets,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on January 8. The best—probably only—option remaining, as Wojnarowski notes, is for the Lakers to stretch out Deng’s contract to clear the cap space they need to make plays for Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins or James.

In that same article, Wojnarowski did mention the names of three players the Lakers would like to trade before February 8. Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle are all, reportedly, on the block. Of all of them, Clarkson seems the most likely to go since he’s in the middle of a strong season.

The Lakers would love a first-round draft pick—they don’t have one this spring—but they would have to give up a major piece of their young core to get it. Clearly, that isn’t happening. Beyond clearing Clarkson’s salary, it figures to be a quiet trade deadline on the silver-and-purple side of Los Angeles.

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