NBA Notebook: Lakers dysfunction at all-time high heading into trade deadline
Welcome to the last edition of our NBA Notebook before the fast approaching 2022 Trade Deadline. For a deeper analysis of the various transactions and their implications, we’ll be doing a dedicated Trade Deadline Winners and Losers column tomorrow.
In the meantime, let's examine the latest news from around the Association.
IS A HARDEN-SIMMONS TRADE IN THE "DEAL ZONE”?
Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are "in the deal zone" with regards to trade talks for James Harden. In addition to coining the delightful phrase, Windy reports that both sides are talking and trading offers and that the likelihood of a trade centered around the bearded former MVP getting done is much higher than has previously been assumed.
But Jake Fischer, who for my money has had information as good as gold the last few offseason and trade cycles, went on the Mismatch Podcast with Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer and threw cold water on all of that. While he was reluctant to directly refute Windhorst’s report, he asserted that there were no ongoing discussions between the two teams. He speculated that the reports seemed to be a ploy by 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey to up the pressure on the Nets' front office to force a last-minute deal.
This is the only reported deadline deal that has the chance to upset the balance of both the title race this year and perhaps for more to come. We’ll no doubt find out in just a few hours what’s what.
LAKERS DRAMA INTENSIFIES
The dysfunction in Laker Land hit a new low this week, as the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo came to Crypto.com Arena and thoroughly dismantled the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. Then last night, the Lakers lost to a Portland Trail Blazers team giving rotation minutes to several NBA non-entities.
During the aftermath of the Bucks game, Russell Westbrook was vocally critical of the decision by Frank Vogel to keep him out of the closing lineup. He then missed his first game of the season against Portland with a sore lower back.
LeBron James, meanwhile, waxed poetic about how far the Lakers are from being a championship-caliber team, and for the first time, seemed openly skeptical that this group could get there.
The Lakers are hard-pressed to make a meaningful upgrade tomorrow, but they have to do something. Playing out the string on one of LeBron’s few remaining prime years or simply scapegoating Frank Vogel and calling it a day is not good enough.
CJ MCCOLLUM TRADED TO NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
In the latest move that signals that they’re tilting toward a full-on rebuild, the Trail Blazers traded longtime shooting guard CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans.
From Portland’s side of the ledger, this is a pretty good piece of business. McCollum has not lived up to his $100 million extension and the clock has hit midnight on this group of Blazers players. Getting a pick with top-five upside is good value.
For the Pelicans, they continue to push all-in on a veteran core for when Zion Williamson returns. CJ is a professional scorer, and his ability as a pull-up shooter will give Pelicans interior scorers even more room to work with.
CAVALIERS TRADE FOR CARIS LEVERT
The Cleveland Cavaliers traded Ricky Rubio’s contract, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick for Caris LeVert. LeVert fills a backup shot creation need and is at least a credible option on the wing, something Cleveland desperately needed.
But the Indiana Pacers weren’t done yet...
SABONIS IS A KING, HALIBURTON IS A PACER
In perhaps the most shocking deal of the pre-deadline group of transactions, the Pacers have traded two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings for a package centered around Tyrese Haliburton.
The move seemingly ends all doubt that the Kings plan to continue building around De’Aaron Fox, and will be pushing hard to end the team's 14-season streak of not making the playoffs.
Kings fans were appalled that the promising Haliburton was traded so soon into his young career, but then Sabonis received a hero's welcome last night as he and Fox led the Kings to a dramatic win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Time will tell if this was short-sighted folly or a move that helps the Kings finally turn the corner.
BRADLEY BEAL IS DONE FOR THE YEAR
After missing a couple of games with a wrist injury, the Washington Wizards announced that star guard Bradley Beal would be having season-ending wrist surgery. After a promising start, the Wizards are 2-8 in their last 10 games and have all but imploded publicly.
The Wizards and Beal must now each decide whether or not Beal’s future is to remain with the team and sign a potentially $245 million contract in the summer - or if it’s finally time to find a new home for the three-time All-Star.
I think the Wizards would be fools to sign that contract, and if there’s requisite value on the table tomorrow for Beal, they should pull the trigger and begin a proper rebuild.