LeBron James and these Lakers can dial it up for a moment — like Saturday night's best-game-of-the-season double overtime win against the Warriors. LeBron had 36 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists in 48 minutes played (and while some are tired of hearing this, the fact he is doing that at age 39 is unprecedented).
However, consistency is not these Lakers calling card. Following that win they dropped road games to the Rockets and Hawks — two of the more winnable games on their Grammys road trip. The losses dropped the Lakers below .500 again (24-25) with Boston and New York up next.
"We could, on any given night, beat any team in the NBA. And then on any given night we could get our ass kicked," LeBron James said postgame. With that as context, LeBron posted this on X (formerly Twitter) after losing to the Hawks.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 31, 2024
LeBron is the king of passive-aggressive front office manipulation. He will say this is nothing, that he wants no part of roster construction, that's the front office's job, and he loves the guys in the locker room. But this action speaks louder than words. It's no secret, LeBron is 39 and wants to contend for a title again. Now.
This was very much a "Rob Pelinka, do something" message.
Except, what is Pelinka supposed to do?
No single trade (or a package of trades) of available players makes these Lakers contenders. Lakers apologists like to point to last season, when Pelinka and the Lakers made some moves at the trade deadline and then went 16-7 after the All-Star break, making a run to the Western Conference Finals with their new-look roster. That's true. Show me this year's "we just traded Russell Westbrook" move that brings back players as good as Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, plus that second trade of picks the Lakers no longer have to get Rui Hachimura. The issues with this year's Lakers are not as easy to fix.
The Lakers have had discussions with the Hawks about a trade for Dejounte Murray (who had 24 points and nine assists, fueling Atlanta's win over Los Angeles Tuesday), but those talks have stalled out. The Lakers don't want to put Austin Reaves in the trade (nor should they), and the Hawks don't want D'Angelo Russell back in a deal — and neither do their fans.
Hawks fans chanting “We don’t want you!” with D’Angelo Russell at the FT line pic.twitter.com/fdH7yysOP7
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 31, 2024
The Lakers would need to find a third team to take on Russell — a team that will want some draft pick compensation — to make the Murray trade work. Pelinka has to ask himself, is it worth giving up the Laker's 2029 first-round pick (their best available trade asset) and more to get Murray? Does he move the needle that much?
If the Lakers can't — or won't — trade for Murray, at best they can make some small changes around the edges of the roster. Is that going to keep LeBron happy?
Some online have suggested the Lakers trade LeBron but, that's not happening at the deadline. It's not happening over the summer, either, unless LeBron demands it — he has a $51.4 million player option for next season he could turn down and become a free agent. LeBron could also use the leverage of opting out to force a trade.
That's unlikely, but as the losses pile up it feels like some kind of offseason pivot is coming. What the Lakers really want to do is retool around LeBron and Anthony Davis, but there is a lot of work to do. Austin Reaves may not be a third option on an elite team, and off-season signings that looked good on paper have not worked as hoped. It would take a lot of work to turn this Lakers roster around and contend in a West where Denver isn't going anywhere, the Clippers likely bring everyone back (and have looked great of late), and both Oklahoma City and Minnesota are improving.
But we know what LeBron James wants.