Lakers reportedly quiet at trade deadline in part because they didn’t want to take on money

Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Lakers stood pat at the NBA trade deadline in large part because it was the right basketball move — their options were not that good and came at a high cost. Russell Westbrook and his massive contract were virtually untradable, and there isn’t a lot of demand around the league for Talen Horton-Tucker after his play this season, nor for Kendrick Nunn (who has yet to play this season due to injury). The Lakers’ most valuable trade chip was their 2027 first-round pick, and the return on that in a deal was not worth giving it up.

However, there was another factor, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne said on the Hoop Collection Podcast (hat tip — the Lakers would not take on more money.

“There was an iteration of the John Wall [for Russell Westbrook] trade that included Christian Wood that would have involved more money,” ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said… “I’ve been told from other sources in Houston that there was a message that the Lakers were not willing to take on more money.”

“That’s kind of the word around the league that the Lakers were making calls, if there was a trade that made sense, they would do it. I’ve heard it described as ‘maybe half-hearted efforts,'” Shelburne added on the same show. “They would do something if it was low-hanging fruit but they weren’t really willing to feel any pain, whether that was luxury tax money, whether that was more encumberment in the future, whether that was draft compensation. In other words, they called, they tried to do some things but there wasn’t a sense of the same kind of urgency I think you heard from the players the night of the Milwaukee game and especially after the Portland game.”

Fans hate to hear their team won’t spend money because it’s not their money. Make no mistake, the Buss family and the Lakers are spending big — their $151 million payroll is the fifth highest in the league, and they are $19.6 million into the luxury tax, which is going to cost them an additional $43.7 million at the end of the season. They are pushing $200 million in salary and tax — that’s a lot of scratch for a below .500 team. And while the Lakers generate more revenue than any other team — thanks in part to their massive $3 billion local cable deal — this is still the Buss family business and there are limits to their spending.

That appears to be impacting the product on the court. They didn’t spend an extra $8.7 million to keep Alex Caruso around in part because of the tax implications, for example.

John Hollinger at The Athletic asked another deadline money question of the Lakers.

On the other hand, if the Lakers are going to do anything in the buyout market at all — as they claim they will — their inactivity on minor salary dumps was borderline organizational malpractice. The Lakers should have sent cash, DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore to a team with an open roster spot and room below the tax (there were several). Because both are on minimum contracts, it didn’t even require cap room. Trading those two and filling their roster spots with a free agent for the rest of the year would have saved the Lakers about $8 million in luxury-tax payments alone and created two small trade exceptions. With the going rate on minimum-contract salary dumps being in the low $1 million range, this was a rather obvious opportunity to net millions in savings while opening two roster spots.

In the end, standing pat on big trades at the deadline was the right move by the Lakers — there is no silver bullet answer to salvage this season. These are your Lakers, and the only hope is that a healthy and fully engaged LeBron James and Anthony Davis can surprise some teams and carry this team farther than expected. Then, come the offseason (when the Lakers can trade their 2029 first-round pick), they can find a way to overhaul this roster.

The Lakers don’t need to spend more but need to spend what they have more wisely.