The hoopla surrounding LeBron James’ chase of the NBA’s all-time scoring record has rightfully dominated the news cycle over these past few weeks and has somewhat concealed the Los Angeles Lakers’ persistent struggle to make their way up the West standings.

Los Angeles kicked off 2023 six games below .500 at 15-21 which put them in 12th place in the Western Conference. Six weeks later, they remain six games below .500, now with a 25-31 record, and have slid down by a notch to 13th place where they are ahead of only the tanking San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

The Lakers have lost five of their last seven games, including their last three outings, but the hope is that the team can now refocus on qualifying for the playoffs–or even just the play-in tournament–now that James has leapfrogged Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the league’s all-time leading scorer.

All is not lost for Los Angeles, who sit only 2.5 games behind the 10th place Portland Trail Blazers for the last play-in spot and are 4.5 back of the new-look Phoenix Suns for the sixth spot in the West. Furthermore, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka has done his part, cleverly retooling their roster prior to the recently concluded trade deadline after consistently drawing flak for his hesitation to part with the team’s highly coveted 2027 and 2029 first round picks.

Pelinka made the most of a difficult situation and his moves have drawn praise in the immediate aftermath. He kicked things off three weeks ago by acquiring 25-year-old forward Rui Hachimura, the ninth overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, from the Washington Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second round picks.


Hachimura has started five out of his first seven games with Los Angeles so far and has filled the team’s gaping hole in the frontcourt alongside James and Anthony Davis. The 6’8 forward provides them with a much-needed combination of size and floor spacing as he is hitting a decent 35.3% of his three-pointers since arriving from Washington. His ability to create his own shot is invaluable to the Lakers as well who have struggled to generate consistent offensive production outside of their superstar duo this year.

The biggest move by Pelinka though came a day before the February 9 trade deadline as he finally managed to find a taker for 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook. This put an end to Westbrook’s tumultuous year and a half stay with the team where he struggled to fit in basketball-wise with James and Davis.

Westbrook was dealt to the Utah Jazz while Los Angeles reacquired guard D’Angelo Russell, whom the franchise drafted second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, from the Minnesota Timberwolves in what was a three-team trade.

Compared with Westbrook, the 6’4 Russell is a far superior outside shooter–he is currently hitting 39.1% of his three-point attempts versus 29.6%–and is eight years younger as he is still only 26, making this a sound deal for both their present and future. The one-time NBA All-Star can also create his own shot at a high level and has a proven track record of successfully closing out games.

In addition, the Lakers also received three-point specialist Malik Beasley from Minnesota and the Jazz’s athletic forward Jarred Vanderbilt. These two were among the most highly coveted role players in the trade market and figure to immediately secure meaningful minutes in the team’s rotation.

Pelinka capped off his trade deadline moves with a minor tweak to Los Angeles’ bench as he sent out back-up center Thomas Bryant and defensive specialist Patrick Beverley for Mo Bamba and Davon Reed from the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets, respectively.

The 7’0 Bamba was picked sixth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and gives the Lakers some much needed rim protection. Bryant filled-in admirably for Davis when he was sidelined earlier this year, yet his sub-par defense was doing the team more harm than good.

Los Angeles still has 26 games to go on their schedule and turn their season around. Although their record is far from ideal, the presence of James and Davis will always make them a team to be feared come playoff time.

The challenge now will be to secure a spot in the postseason and with a new-look supporting cast that fits the team’s needs much better than its predecessors, it looks like it is still too soon to count this team out as a dark horse contender for this year’s title. Pelinka has long been criticized for his moves since the Lakers won the NBA title back in 2020, but this time around, he deserves a bit of credit for his crafty maneuvers.