As the NBA offseason drags into its dog days, the Lakers appear to be quiet in their pursuit of a ground-breaking move that might significantly alter the landscape for the 2022-23 roster. Instead, it could be an offseason highlighted by a new coach, Darvin Ham, and a raft of relatively untested newcomers like Lonnie Walker IV, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant.
Those are players who should make the Lakers more fun, overall, to watch next season—young players who hustle and have a chip on their collective shoulders. But they’re not guys who will have Lakers fans dreaming of an 18th banner.
To have a realistic shot at that, the feeling is the Lakers must find a taker for point guard Russell Westbrook, and bring back some roster help when they do. Problem is, the Lakers have been putting too high an asking price on Westbrook, who has a $47 million contract and a badly damaged reputation.
That’s got some around the league suggesting that the Lakers should return to conversations that were rumored to be percolating in the spring—that the L.A. and Charlotte could work out a deal that would send Westbrook to the Hornets. And though the Lakers don’t want yet another player with injury concerns, beggars can’t, in this case, be choosers. What the Lakers ought to do, in the eyes of some, is push to dump Westbrook and his hefty contract in Charlotte for the equally hefty contract of Gordon Hayward.
“Hard to see how they can do a lot better than that,” one Eastern Conference executive said.
Westbrook-for-Hayward an Easy Deal
It would be relatively easy to construct a working Hornets-Lakers trade for the two players, with Charlotte needing to balance out the move by including another salary. With Westbrook on one side, the Hornets can offer Hayward, making $30 million next year, and center Mason Plumlee, making $9 million. Those contracts would match enough to make the deal legal under NBA rules.
The Lakers have been unwilling to put both of their available first-round draft picks, in 2027 and 2029, in one deal. They could trade both eventually, but they’d prefer to use them to bring in two separate players. To get Charlotte to take on Westbrook, the Hornets would need to take back one of those Lakers picks.
But only one, and that’s the key. Getting Hayward is a plus for the Lakers, but they’d be doing the Hornets a bit of a favor, too. Hayward is under contract next year, for $31.5 million, and the Lakers would be taking on that money, where Westbrook’s deal would expire after this year.
The Hornets had high hopes for this season, but the legal issues of Miles Bridges, who has been charged with domestic abuse, undercut their plans and some expect they may look to sell off some pieces and refocus their building efforts around guard LaMelo Ball. Hayward would be at the top of the sell list.
Lakers Want Healthy Players
According to a report in April from veteran writer Marc Stein, the Lakers did not want Hayward because he was too fragile. Hayward missed 81 games over the last three seasons, more than 35% of his games, but he also averaged 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists, making 39.6% of his 3s, in that span.
The Lakers have to accept that they’re going to get a less-than-perfect player in a Westbrook deal. In Hayward’s case, the problem is health, but the Lakers should be willing to take that gamble.
“They’ve been treating (Westbrook) like an asset, like he is going to get you something in return,” the executive said. “You can get something, but it is going to be a player who has his own problems, like with Hayward where it is both health and the contract. But if you can keep him healthy with LeBron (James) and Anthony Davis, you have a contender. It’s a big ‘if’ but that is where the talks on Russ are. You need to take back an ‘if.’”