The idea of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers linking up to facilitate a trade ahead of the February 10 deadline isn’t all too outlandish. Both in the midst of disappointing 2021-22 campaigns, the two rivals are expected to be among the more active teams over the next month and could theoretically turn to one another to help fill holes on eachother’s roster.
For instance, former NBA executive John Hollinger noted in a column for The Athletic on December 30 that Los Angeles’ search for off-ball guards with defensive chops “surely” has them making calls for Celtics veteran Marcus Smart. However, could we be setting the bar a bit low when it comes to the type of star power that could exchange between both storied franchises?
Celtics Named a Potential Trade Fit for Russell Westbrook
Following the Lakers’ loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas day, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor tweeted that “the Lakers should explore every possibility to trade Russell Westbrook.” The NBA analyst cited defensive deficiencies, murky shot selection and inability to alter his game as reasons while L.A. will never hoist title No. 18 with Westbrook at their disposal. In that case, could he help the Celtics do so?
It’s a stretch, but Hoops Hype Yossi Gozlan believes that Boston checks the theoretical boxes to serve as a potential suitor for Westbrook at the deadline.
“For example, the Boston Celtics are a team that could use a more traditional point guard, and Westbrook theoretically could be a decent fit there since their best lineup would have three good shooters surrounding him,” wrote Gozlan.
As for what a proposed package would like like to potentially lure Westbrook to Boston, Gozlan highlights that “a package of Al Horford ($27 million), Josh Richardson ($11.6 million), and Juancho Hernangomez ($7 million) combine for nearly identical salaries for Westbrook, which is important for both teams due to their current luxury tax situations.”
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Not so Fast
Westbrook is currently on the books for $44.2 million this season and is has a player option in 2022-23 that would pay him in excesses of $47 million. Gozlan acknowledges that committing that type of money to a 33-year-old point guard might not make the most sense for a franchise looking to build around their young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“However, the Celtics seem to be positioning themselves for a trade for a younger All-Star down the line. All three of those players mentioned earlier make a diverse amount of mid-sized salaries that are valuable for salary matching combinations. If they trade all of them for Westbrook, they’re taking in $44 million this year, and $47 million next year that is way harder to move than those several smaller salaries,” said Gozlan. “Also, the Celtics are already projected to be over the luxury tax next season but can get under if they waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Horford ($14.5 million guaranteed) and Hernangomez. Having Westbrook’s $47 million on their books next year instead would complicate their luxury tax issues.”
For what it’s worth, Westbrook remains a productive player, one that would likely add a jolt to Boston’s backcourt. While he might be ball-dominant, he is just one season removed from leading the entire NBA in assists with 11.7 dimes per game in 2020-21. His 8.4 assists average this season is almost three more per game than Smart currently averages, who paces all Celtics players in the category.
With that said, it’s still tough to envision Brad Stevens and company taking a swing on an aging point guard with a hefty contract attached to his name — I mean, didn’t they just get rid of that? This reigns especially true for an organization that has been so keen on creating financial flexibility for the future. Westbrook’s $91-plus million salary over the next two years doesn’t exactly fit that plan.
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