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HomeBasketball TodayThe Ultimate Slam Dunk: Lakers' Top Priority for the 2024 NBA Trade...

The Ultimate Slam Dunk: Lakers’ Top Priority for the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline!

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How should the Lakers approach the trade deadline, especially in the wake of Jarred Vanderbilt’s injury?

The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of room for improvement before the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline passes on Thursday at noon PT.

They remain hopeful contenders by dint of having LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, they’re keenly aware of their mediocrity. The Lakers are 26-25, ninth in the Western Conference, with a -57 point differential, 20th-ranked offensive rating, and 14th-ranked defensive rating.

LeBron, as he’s wont to do this time of year, spent the past week not-so-subtly pressuring the front office to seek upgrades. In Feb. 2022, the Lakers ignored his nudging, opting to punt on the season and delay a Russell Westbrook uncoupling. At last year’s deadline, Rob Pelinka successfully reworked the roster.

The Lakers will likely land somewhere in the middle in 2024. They’re monitoring star power — Dejounte Murray, Lauri Markkanen, not so much Zach LaVine — but the prices may be too high (i.e. including Austin Reaves). Ditto for Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma.

The Lakers have a surplus of solid pieces on movable deals — Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent, D’Angelo Russell, Taurean Prince — but only Reaves and Max Christie are universally regarded as net-positive assets. The Lakers have one tradable first-round pick (2029 or 2030) but can move two additional first-rounders on the day of the 2024 NBA Draft.

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Regardless of how the Lakers feel about their ceiling, sitting idly by for LeBron’s 21st trade deadline — on the heels of him threatening unrestricted free agency amid encouraging wins over the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks — is, at the very least, risky.

Instead, expect the Lakers to seek meaningful, if modest, upgrades before Feb. 8.

Biggest need Lakers must address at 2024 NBA trade deadline

Throughout 51 games, the Lakers’ holes have been apparent: outside shooting, off-the-dribble attacking, perimeter defense, and a lack of girth inside. The buyout market may present feasible options: Bismack Biyombo, Kyle Lowry, and Danilo Gallinari, to name a few. But now that Jarred Vanderbilt will miss at least several weeks with a foot injury, perimeter defense has to move to the top of the list.

Well, honestly we took a big hit with Vando last game,” LeBron replied Saturday when asked about his confidence in the Lakers’ ability to reach their potential. “Our team has always been constructed around how healthy we can be and how much chemistry we can put on the floor. So, obviously, that’s a big-time blow for us.”

Point-of-attack defense is an issue for this group. Reaves gets picked on. Russell is not Derrick White, after all. Prince is … fine. Christie needs seasoning. Vincent (knee) is out until March. Cam Reddish has a sprained ankle.

After missing preseason and 21 games with left heel soreness, Vanderbilt was rounding into game shape. Over his last eight games, Vando averaged 10.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 steals on 66% shooting. He owns the best net rating on the team for the season. More importantly, he’s far and away their best option on (deep breath) Stephen Curry, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, James Harden, Anthony Edwards, Bradley Beal, Luka Doncic, Jamal Murray, Kyrie Irving, among other Western Conference playmakers.

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Of course, acquiring a rangy, Swiss Army Knife defender who can lock down ball-handlers, switch onto bigs, crash glass, and push the pace as adeptly as Vando isn’t easy. Two names being floated could fit the bill: Toronto Raptors’ guard Bruce Brown and Brooklyn Nets wing Dorian Finney-Smith.

Brown — whom the Lakers targeted in free agency — would offer championship experience, respectable shooting, and bulldog defensive effort. The Raptors are reportedly seeking one first-rounder. His $22 million cap figure is matchable.

The 6’7 Finney-Smith, meanwhile, would seamlessly fill the Vanderbilt void while providing far better outside shooting (38.3% from 3). If the Lakers can wrangle him for merely one first and say, Vincent, that would qualify as, if not a home run for Pelinka, then at least a double. Considering the state of the Lakers and the market, that might be the best they can hope for.

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