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Lakers may have found the right formula following trade deadline moves

Lakers may have found the right formula following trade deadline moves

After months of wondering and waiting if the Los Angeles Lakers would make a deal, the team finally took initiative and struck before the NBA trade deadline — but they didn’t just make one move.

The Lakers made four separate trades between Jan. 23 and Feb. 9, switching out nearly half of their roster after underperforming for the majority of the year. So far, the results have been quite promising.

Since acquiring D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura, Mo Bamba and Davon Reed, the Lakers are 4-1; most recently, it includes a massive 27-point comeback win against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. LA now sits at No. 12 in the Western Conference, but is just one game back of the New Orleans Pelicans for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament. 

When you look at this retooled version of the Lakers roster, it looks like a competent, balanced mix that makes sense together. Despite having two of the best players in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it’s been a while since this team could say that.

You have to go back three seasons — all the way to the 2019-20 campaign — to find the last time that happened; ironically, LA won a championship that year. However, since then, vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office have tried to reshape the roster over and over to try to find the magic again. Those attempts led to disastrous results; the Russell Westbrook experiment was perhaps the poorest decision, as LA gave up its best shooters and significant depth to acquire him.

It appears that, this time around, the Lakers finally learned their lesson, as Pelinka and Co. executed a full reversal. The franchise dealt Westbrook for three pieces in Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt as part of its revamped "2.0" roster, and it’s just what the team needed as it makes a push toward the playoffs.

Russell — who is nursing an ankle injury but should be back in the lineup soon — has shown to have good chemistry with LeBron and AD so far in what has been a small sample size. He won’t wow anyone with his numbers, but he’s playing a smart, controlled game by picking his spots. Russell has a solid feel for when to look for his own shot and is limiting his turnovers, which are down to just 1.5 per game so far in his second stint with the Lakers. 

Beasley is the “laser” that LeBron has been openly hoping for to help solve the Lakers' shooting problems from three-point range. Even when he isn’t hitting his shots, teams have to account for him and his 38% career clip from deep. 

Vanderbilt is infectious with his energy and effort, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He was the tone-setter Sunday with 15 points, 17 rebounds and 4 steals to spearhead LA's rallying victory against the Mavericks. (Vando looks to be the steal of the trade deadline.)

Hachimura hasn’t blown the doors off since putting on the purple and gold, but he has added size and another shooting presence that teams have to deal with, providing more balance and space for the Lakers' offense. 

That quartet of players has breathed a new life into the Lakers as a whole — particularly with experience.

“Adding those pieces, I think it brings more balance,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham recently said. “We have guys in that second unit that have been in the starting lineup and played starters' minutes and closed games for us, and had big moments in big games. So we have confidence in the entire roster. But that’s a great shot in the arm that we were able to pick up at the trade deadline.”

(Bamba debuted with three blocks for LA and registered a double-double in his second game with the team as well.)

Maybe most importantly, this Lakers team looks like it’s having fun. There are smiles and high-fives galore with players rooting for one another. You can feel the energy shifting following those roster moves.

There’s still plenty of work to be done. The Lakers have two more games on an all-so-important road trip. Tuesday night, they'll play the Memphis Grizzlies and then, they'll take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday in a back-to-back. (Plus, LA won't have LeBron for an extended period of time due to a foot injury, which obviously is a huge blow.)

There is no margin for error at this point. The last thing that LeBron, AD and the new-look Lakers want to do is miss the playoffs yet again. With that said, all signs are pointing up.

These guys believe in one another. They believe they can win. And, so far, they’re showing it on the court.

Maybe, just maybe, they finally have the right pieces.

"I've always been confident in any club that I've been on [that] once we got into the playoffs, that we can compete with anyone, and I feel no different now," LeBron said. "With the roster, the way we're shaped up right now, if we can finish off this regular season on the right foot, then we can compete versus anyone in the Western Conference, if not the whole league...

"If we can punch our ticket, we can compete versus anyone."

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