NBA Execs: ‘Muddy’ Trade Season Heating Up for Lakers, Others

Rob Pelinka (right, Lakers GM

Getty Rob Pelinka (right, Lakers GM

NBA teams are beginning to get itchy trading fingers, according to league sources who are speaking with Heavy Sports. The question is whether they’ll jump now or exercise patience.

The 2022-23 NBA campaign is still very young, but we’re past the point of simply using “small sample size” to entirely explain all the trends. (Though Golden State, at 6-9, certainly expects that such is the reason for their rocky early season.)

“Everyone comes into the year having talked themselves into their roster,” one general manager told Heavy.com. “But then we start playing the games and soon enough reality sets in. Some teams shouldn’t read too much into it, because it takes time for guys to get on the same page if you’ve made some changes. But even though it’s crazy, some guys look at the standings and think, ‘Oh, s***, I better do something.’ I mean, you’ve got to be able to evaluate your team properly. You’ve got to be sober.

“Can you imagine if Brad (Stevens) had looked at Boston being under .500 in January and started making big changes? Instead, he makes a few smaller changes, they get to the Finals and now they’re even better.

“But he had a really good core. Some of these teams just have to look at themselves and realize it’s never, ever going to f***ing work. And some of them are going to be under pressure to do something. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens after December 15th.”

That’s the date when players signed this past summer can be traded, and while there may not be any big names among them on the move, the ability to use others to make a larger trade work could be critical to the process.

It could be a key date for the Lakers and their murky situation, as they take a 3-10 record into Friday’s meeting with the bottom-of-the-East Pistons — a matchup that would have topped the NBA marquee … 30-something years ago.

“I think the Lakers are going to ride it out for a while,” one GM who’s been working the phones told Heavy Sports. “I don’t know what else they can do. They have to consider the fact they’re going to have a lot of salary cap space coming up, and do they really want to take that away by spending now on a team that isn’t going anywhere?

“I’ve heard the names that are being thrown around, but I don’t see anything that’s going to give them a real chance at winning anything. They’re better off letting Russell (Westbrook)’s $47 million come off the books and seeing where they are then. If they were to find someone to take him now, they’d have to be taking on salary that will push into next year and probably beyond. That’s just sticking them in the mud for more years. The important thing is getting out of the mud, not looking slightly better while you’re in it.”


Could the Nets ‘Take a Match’ to the Roster?

The other epicenter of NBA trade season speculation will be, naturally, the Nets. And they could well be joined by others (hello, Knicks). But it could take a while.

“Teams are definitely starting to talk, but unless someone like Brooklyn is looking to have a going out of business sale or something like that, you really just have to sit back for now,” said a league executive. “The deals that may be there now aren’t going to get any worse in the next few weeks — and they could get a lot better.

“I really think Brooklyn would like to take a match to that thing and start over, but they really have to wait it out and see if Kyrie is different when he gets back. If he’s just Kyrie Irving the basketball player, then things could get interesting. He’s that damn good. The problem is you always seem to get something else with him. And then they still have to figure out what the hell’s going on with (Ben) Simmons.

“But they’re in a position now where they’d be selling low on guys, so they have to see if they can, first, be a decent team or, second, build some trade value in some of their guys.”


Financial Reality Could Fuel More Deals

For some or even many teams, finances may start playing a role, according to a source.

“There could be some interesting players out there as we get deeper into the season,” said a league exec, “because I think teams are going to be looking to dump salary once it’s clear they’re not in the playoff mix — or maybe in the mix but with no chance to do anything if they get there. Teams are going to start looking at that luxury tax bill and their record, and the two just aren’t going to mesh.

“Where it could get interesting is if some guys get the idea they need to make a splash to keep their jobs. But I think you’re going to see some owners step in and look at the bottom line. What’s funny is that they may end up saving their GMs from themselves — you know, keep them from doing something stupid.”

 

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