Having pulled off a string of deals in the days and weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline on Thursday, Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the team got ahead of the work to be done this summer in free agency.
"I think a deep dive into this, you can almost look at it as 'pre-agency,'" Pelinka told reporters on a conference call on Saturday. "We very intentionally planned these moves to provide optionality in July. ... It really is an exciting time, I think, for Laker Nation."
Starting with the Rui Hachimura trade with the Washington Wizards last month, the Lakers traded away six players -- all of whom were on expiring contracts -- to receive six back who are, on the whole, younger players with contract options for L.A. to keep them a part of its core beyond this season.
Headlining the moves was the Lakers' three-team trade with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves that brought back former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell to the franchise, along with Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, and sent out Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, a second-round pick and their 2027 first round pick (protected 1-4).
"I think D'Angelo has shown a lot of growth since we had him here," Pelinka said of Russell, whose contract expires this summer but is extension eligible. "We do see him not just as a player that's a short-term rental. So, we think that he's a player that can really fit nicely, again, with our core pieces of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, just bringing spacing and shooting and playmaking and efficiency."
Many of those attributes that Pelinka is hoping for out of Russell proved to be an elusive fit in the season and a half the Lakers had with Westbrook, a surefire Hall of Famer who never found his footing with L.A.
"I think all teams, at times, take risks and trade for a player," Pelinka said of Westbrook.
"Our aspirations when we did the Westbrook trade was it would lead to a championship, a contending team. We didn't meet that goal. So you have to then look to pivot if something is not working to correct it. I think this trade deadline, there was an opportunity there. I think it's really unfair to put the last year and a half, or whatever period of time that is, on one player. I think the whole roster has to come together and fit. And part of sports sometimes is if things aren't working, you have to fix them."
Now James, 38, is the only player aged 30 or older on the Lakers' 14-man roster. And only James, Davis, Vanderbilt and Max Christie are under contract for next season, giving the Lakers flexibility to go a different direction this summer if their new acquisitions don't pan out the way they plan.
"We're really pleased with where things landed," Pelinka said. "I think going into the trade deadline, really wanted to address shooting and spacing and more wing depth and size in general. To be on the other side of the trade deadline where we've added five core players that are 26 or under in age, starting with the trade we did for Rui. But if you look at Rui and D'Angelo and Mo Bamba and Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, all guys that are 26 or under. Three of those guys were top-10 picks in the draft recently.
"You could really start to see a young core crystalizing that gives us optionality for the future, but also gives us an improved team now to finish our last 26 games with this season. To come out of that using a protected first-round pick, we're pleased."
The Lakers held on to their 2029 first-round pick, although Pelinka confirmed that it was discussed in a potential deal. That deal, sources told ESPN, was with the Brooklyn Nets in an attempt to acquire Kyrie Irving before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
Pelinka said the league's collective bargaining agreement prohibited him from discussing any players on any other teams by name. All told, Pelinka said the front office's recent maneuvering should allow this year's team, in James' 20th season, to compete, while also fielding a pliable group allowing for many directions moving forward.
"What we talked about at the beginning of the season, we showed this trade deadline a willingness to be very aggressive with our future assets to make the team better, and to also plan for the future," he said. "I'm glad we were able to put action to words."