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Lakers, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dennis Schroder, LeBron James

Lakers’ biggest mistake at the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

The dust has settled, and Kyle Lowry is not a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In fact, the Lakers’ roster remains wholly intact (albeit depleted).

Lowry ending up in L.A. looked like an increasing possibility in the final hours before Thursday’s trade deadline. The Philadelphia 76ers acquired George Hill, while various reports indicated that Lowry’s final suitors were down to the Lakers and Miami Heat.

However, Rob Pelinka was reportedly unwilling to include 20-year old wing Talen Horton-Tucker in a package, whil Pat Riley would not involve Tyler Herro (Riles did scoop Victor Oladipo before the buzzer).

Masaj Ujiri is no fool. As I surmised, the Raptors president had no reason to accept any package that didn’t feature Horton-Tucker. Pelinka’s offer of impending free agent Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Wesley Matthews — even with second-round picks and/or the 2027 first-rounder — is not satisfactory for Lowry.

Horton-Tucker should feel relieved and flattered by the value the Lakers evidently place on him. He should also feel exceedingly confident about their intentions of paying him the maximum amount he’s entitled to this summer.

Plenty of Lakers fans will be similarly pleased to hang onto THT (and Dennis). But were the Lakers smart to pass on a chance to land a six-time All-Star?

The Lakers needed another perimeter playmaker — ideally, one who could shoot, defend, and dribble-drive — prior to LeBron James’ high ankle sprain, which will sideline him for at least a month. In the three losses since James went down, the Lakers have struggled mightily to score and compete. On paper, Lowry would have instantly become their best bucket-getter who could be an elite third banana when James and Anthony Davis return.

At 35, Lowry is one of six players averaging at least 17 points, seven assists, and five rebounds per game in 2020-21. He’s built for postseason play — and the Lakers, frankly, only care about the playoffs.

Horton-Tucker is an undeniably enticing talent and fast learner. After playing mostly G-League ball in 2019-20, THT has lived up to the preseason hype and has fully ensconced himself into Frank Vogel’s rotation. Kyle Kuzma called him one of their best penetrators, and he’s making daily strides with his decision-making.

Nevertheless, Horton-Tucker is still a raw role player (8.0 PPG in 18.4 MPG in 2020-21) with limited playoff experience. He may be a “sponge“, but is he sponge-worthy?

THT may not reach his full potential until James nears the end of his run, and the Lakers should be maximizing their short-term championship window while the King still reigns. Lowry was hoping to sign a two-year extension for roughly $50 million upon being traded. That timeline aligns with LeBron’s.

Schröder has been a favorite of fans and teammates, and rightfully so. Dennis the Menace has been a two-way Energizer Bunny, and he’s repeatedly showered compliments on the Lakers organization, top-down. He’s averaged 15 points and 4.7 assists per game this season, but shooting 31.7% from three.

On the other hand, the two sides have yet to work out an extension, leading to speculation that Schröder’s camp may want to test unrestricted free agency. The Lakers can afford him if they’re willing to front a massive luxury tax bill, but flipping him for Lowry is a winning hedge.

For all the positives the 27-year old Schröder brings to the table, he’s simply not as good as Lowry on either end. Horton-Tucker may never be as good as Lowry is right now.

Caldwell-Pope and Matthews have been ice-cold for most of the season, and the organization can find another shooter on the buyout market. Alex Caruso can fill the defensive void for large swaths of playoff games.

Alas. L.A. can now focus on extending Schröder, re-signing Horton-Tucker, and buyouts (Andre Drummond?, LaMarcus Aldridge?, Otto Porter Jr.?). When fully healthy, they have enough talent and depth to repeat, and they’ve retained youth by standing pat.

It’s impossible to know how quickly Lowry would have assimilated. It’s a major personnel shake-up to incorporate with eight weeks to go, both stars sidelined, and almost zero practice time.

But, should Schröder struggle in the playoffs or Horton-Tucker’s development stagger, Pelinka’s reluctance to add a seasoned All-Star at the cost of supporting pieces won’t age well.