After blowout loss to Bucks, Lakers head into trade deadline understanding depth of issues

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers
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“Do I think we can reach the level where Milwaukee is right now? Um, no. Is that what you wanted to hear? No.”

That was LeBron James, following Tuesday’s 15-point loss to the Bucks that was never that close, giving an honest assessment of where the Lakers are less than 48 hours out from the NBA trade deadline.

The quote comes courtesy of Bill Oram of The Athletic, who went into more detail about the mood around the Lakers, who aren’t blind and realize where things stand.

Sources told The Athletic that inside the locker room, players see and feel the same problems as everyone else, perhaps never more clearly than after a non-competitive loss to the champs. They understand as well as anyone that the personnel on this joyless 26-29 team simply isn’t working…

It is impossible for anyone, including many within the organization, to see a path back to contention without major changes. The Lakers would almost certainly be in for a major shakeup prior to Thursday’s deadline if not for the fact that their most tradeable players — Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker — are not seen as attractive targets by other teams and the only first-round pick they have to trade can’t be used until 2027…

Sources have indicated that the Lakers no longer believe they can win at a high level with Westbrook alongside James and Davis, but prior to Tuesday the line of thinking was that the Lakers would be unwilling to wave the white flag and admit their summer blockbuster was a failure. Instead, they would prefer to wait until the offseason, when they could also include a 2029 pick in a potential deal for another max-contract player looking for a new home.

Any team that brings in a player the stature of LeBron or Kevin Durant in today’s NBA understands those players will have a say — if not sway — in personnel moves. It’s part of the package.

The problem is most players make terrible GMs. They look at different skill sets then may be needed, and they think of the peak of a player instead of where he is now (and is trending toward). As noted by Oram (and reported here and elsewhere before), the Lakers pivoted from a trade with the Kings for Buddy Hield and others that would have tried to reconstruct a form of the 2020 title team — shooters and defenders around an elite pairing of Anthony Davis and LeBron — and had the flexibility to make other moves. Instead, they went for the big name. Westbrook likely said all the right things about accepting a role, but his game was never a good fit.

Many, myself included, picked the Lakers to come out of the West in preseason predictions for two reasons. First, there were questions about every other team in the West, nothing looked certain (the Suns and Warriors have answered those questions). Second, LeBron is the NBA’s greatest problem solver, a guy who figured out how to take lesser rosters to the Finals. There was a trust he could solve the obvious — even before the season — questions about the roster. Except he hasn’t been able to, Davis has been All-Star level good but not transcendent like the Lakers need, and there were far more misses than hits around them.

There is no good answer for salvaging this Lakers season, although either now or in the summer Frank Vogel likely pays the price for it.

The bigger question: Is there a way to salvage the Lakers for next season? After Russell Westbrook opts into his $47.1 million payday.