Who Are the Untradeable Gems for the Los Angeles Lakers as the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline Approaches?

January 27, 2024

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Few teams are more fascinating than the Los Angeles Lakers as we look ahead to the fast-approaching 2024 NBA trade deadline.

No, that’s not my big-market bias showing. It’s just a fact. The Lakers have limited assets, but that’s only part of their intrigue.

Should they put their best possible offers on the table now? Who is the best player that can even get them? Dejounte Murray? Should they just wait until the summer, when they can cobble together packages that include up to three first-round picks and three swaps rather than one first-round pick and three swaps?

Framed that way, waiting feels like a no-brainer. But there is an inherent and obligatory urgency to employing LeBron James. He’s in his age-39 season and playing at an All-NBA level. You have to try optimizing this version of him, at virtually all costs, because you can’t be sure it’ll be around for much longer.

To that end, the Lakers’ precarious timeline and even shakier place in the Western Conference warrants a thorough overview of who should be on the table in negotiations ahead of the deadline.

The word “untouchable” gets thrown around a lot. Too often, actually. The league has, maybe, 15 truly wouldn’t-dare-trade-them players. Everyone else is up for grabs in the right (or perfect) theoretical deal.

Still, there is a tier below “untouchable” that’s worth considering. Call these players the “Probably shouldn’t move because…” brigade.

This exercise will seek to make sense of who the Lakers should and shouldn’t make available as they scour the trade market for win-now splashes—and why.

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No need to mince words here. Anthony Davis is untouchable, because duh.

AD is too mission critical for the Lakers to consider trading. There is no scenario in which he gets moved and they wind up a better team.

(Quick aside for the salary-cap dorks like myself: AD signed a veteran extension before the season. But he put pen to paper on August 4. *Does ultra-complicated math.* That means his six-month restriction lifts Feb. 4—four days before the deadline.)

Yes, AD’s offense can still wax and wane. He is basically a non-shooter who shoots (from mid-range), and his limited self-creation makes it difficult for him to independently headline net-positive offensive units.

Harping on this, though, is the lamest form of criticism. You aren’t so much pointing out flaws. You’re penalizing him for not being an altogether different brand of star.

Play-finishing and, sure, the occasional self-starting has always been AD’s archetype. And that’s perfectly fine! Davis remains one of the most dangerous play-finishers in the business.

This all says nothing of his defensive impact. He is a one-of-one talent on the less glamorous end, someone who can anchor a top-tier attack while bouncing around every nook and cranny of the court, oftentimes on a single possession.

Going on 31 this March, Davis is also the closest the Lakers come to a post-LeBron James lifeline. He isn’t—and shouldn’t be—going anywhere.

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Short of LeBron James directly demanding a trade—or indirectly doing so by informing L.A.’s front office he intends to decline his $51.4 million player option for next season and leave in free agency—the Lakers should not be dealing the now NBA-record 20-time All-Star.

Anthony Davis has probably been the purple and gold’s best player this season. But LeBron is a close second, if not still the most indispensable. Even with some wonky on-off offensive data caked in, the Lakers are nearly seven points per 100 possessions better with James on the court—the highest net-rating swing on the team.

On a more fundamental level, LeBron is averaging north of 24 points and seven assists per game while knocking down over 57 percent of his twos and 39 percent of his triples. Only one player has ever sustained those benchmarks for an entire season: LeBron James himself in 2012-13, when he was 28 years old.

So, yeah, we have always needed—and continue to need—a word stronger than “untouchable” to describe his trade value.

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Sources told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin the Lakers have “no desire” to trade Austin Reaves. That’s fair. It’s also different from “untouchable.”

Some maintain the 25-year-old is wildly overrated because he plays for the Lakers. Others believe he’s still undervalued by virtue of people thinking he’s become overvalued.

The truth, like usual, lies somewhere in between.

Reaves is an incredibly useful player. He leaves much to be desired as an outside shooter, and opposing offenses better understand how to attack him in the half-court. But he has real jiggle and joggle with the ball in his hands and knows how to navigate the floor around L.A.’s primary initiators. Even as he’s seen his efficiency dip, he’s still converting over 58 percent of his twos.

Having him on his current deal is also a luxury. He has two team-controlled years left on his contract after this one, valued at an employer-friendly $26.9 million, plus a $14.9 million player option for 2026-27 that he will probably decline.

Nothing you just read, though, typifies an untouchable player. Reaves is valuable, not invaluable. In the event the Lakers can make a serious upgrade, he needs to be on the table, if only because he represents first-round-pick equity for a team that can only ship out one at the moment.

This isn’t to say he should be thrown into any ol’ deal. Drawing the line at Reaves in prospective Zach LaVine negotiations is fair. Opting to wait for this summer, when Reaves can be packaged with more first-round equity than the Lakers can ship out now, is fair game, too.

If L.A. is intent on acting now and we’re talking about Dejounte Murray, it’s more debatable. But if we’re talking about a bona fide star or a package that nets a fringe star plus other stuff (Murray and, like, Bogdan Bogdanović and De’Andre Hunter, perhaps), the Lakers shouldn’t need to think twice.

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“What?! How is Jarred Vanderbilt even good enough to warrant his very own blurb, let alone actually be deemed untouchable?!? This is outrageous!”

Au contraire, this is not outrageous.

Vanderbilt signed a veteran extension with the Lakers on September 8, so he cannot be moved until six months after that date. Thanks to my knack for doing intensely complicated math, I can tell you his restriction won’t lift until March 8—a full month past the deadline.

Keep an eye on Vanderbilt over the offseason, though. His salary will jump to $10.7 million, making him a far more valuable money-matching tool, and plenty of teams will treat someone so active and versatile defensively as a first-rounderish-type asset.

Verdict: Untouchable…by default

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Let’s answer the question now, with two words: Hell no.

D’Angelo Russell signed a contract (2024-25 player option; waived his implicit no-trade clause) that exists almost solely to move at a later date. Rui Hachimura is on a deal (two years, $35.3 million remaining) the Lakers should probably be hocking all over the league.

Jettisoning Gabe Vincent (two years, $22.5 million) when he is injured, has appeared in just five games and is, thus, at the absolute nadir of his value wouldn’t be ideal. But if the Lakers need another mid-end salary to step-ladder their way toward a more expensive player, cutting the cord is hardly prohibitive.

This question gets more interesting when shifting to L.A.’s less-expensive players. Rerouting names who don’t make enough to bring back anyone or anything valuable on their own isn’t that palatable. But even by these standards, the Lakers have about two players who are “Probably shouldn’t move because…” material.

Finding someone who approximates the utility of Taurean Prince at his price point (expiring at $4.5 million) is darn near impossible. The same goes for Max Christie (expiring at $1.7 million; restricted free agent this summer). Holding onto both makes sense.

Then again, the Lakers are so barren of enticing assets, they can’t be that selective, and retaining Prince beyond this season may be an impossibility anyway. L.A. can only offer him a starting salary of $5.4 million next year before it must tap into the mid-level exception. Christie has played like a shot of adrenaline on more than a few occasions, but he’s galaxies from can’t-miss.

If either one—or anybody else on the roster—can push a deal that nets a closing-lineup member over the top, the Lakers have nothing to think about.

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