News of the Los Angeles Lakers coaching search is currently dominating the headlines surrounding the team, yet Russell Westbrook’s future role within the franchise is a close second.
Right now, the Lakers are in limbo. No head coach, no clear plan on how to rebuild a failed roster, and hardly any assets to factor into the equation as trade bait. Still, once a new coach is in the hot seat, attention must turn to the elephant in the room – Westbrook’s immediate future in Los Angeles.
However, with one-year and $47 million remaining on his contract, moving off of Westbrook won’t be easy, especially if the Lakers have no intention of sweetening the deal with additional assets. The problem is, that most of the team’s future draft stock either directly belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans or they have the right to swap picks, courtesy of the deal to acquire Anthony Davis in 2019.
Luckily, the Lakers do still own their picks for 2027 and 2029, but adding them to any deal would be terrible business considering Westbrook’s arrival was supposed to signal a multi-year period of contention. Still, if the All-Star guard isn’t willing to agree to terms on a buy-out, and other teams aren’t showing much interest in helping the Lakers out, the team might find themselves with no other choice.
According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, the Lakers could be tempted into packaging their draft picks along with Westbrook if it ensured the guard was removed from their cap sheet, regardless of the optics such a deal would generate.
“Based on their deadline activity, and everything that I’ve heard dating back to last season, I think the Lakers are going to do everything they can to retain their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks. But if trading one of the picks is the best path to dumping Westbrook and/or significantly improving the roster, I think they will strongly consider it. They are in the win-now business with James and Davis,” Buha wrote.
A Short Window to Maximize LeBron James
It’s hard to imagine LeBron James declining, but next season he will turn 38. Eventually, time is going to catch up with one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood, and when it does, the Lakers ceiling is going to drastically lower.
So, assuming LeBron can continue to play at his current level until he turns forty, that would give the Lakers another two years to challenge for a championship with a score of Anthony Davis and LeBron, after which, the team will need to rebuild around Davis – which has always been the plan.
With such a tight window for success, the Lakers need to nail all of their rosters moves this off-season, so if that means trading away Westbrook and losing a draft pick or two, the front office will have to bite the bullet. Furthermore, you can’t rely on a late-thirties LeBron to consistently bail you out during games, even if his 30.3 points, 6.2 assists, and 8.2 rebounds signaled one of the statistically superior years of his career.
Getting the Coaching Hire Right
The Lakers’ road to redemption begins with hiring a new head coach, one who can unite the current roster and immediately improve the team’s fortunes. Tinseltown needs a modern coach, one who is innovative in their play calls and schemes, a coach that isn’t afraid to upset the applecart if it means coaxing another five or ten percent out of their players.
We’ve heard about Mark Jackson, Phil Jackson, Quin Snyder, Nick Nurse, and even Doc Rivers in recent weeks – all of whom are strong candidates for one reason or another. But the front office needs to be sure the next coach can command the respect of the locker room and produce the goods out on the hardwood – and that’s a tough assignment for any executive.
Still, until a new coach is instilled the Lakers won’t be in a position to start making roster moves and preparing for the start of next season, and judging by what we recently witnessed from the team, they need to make use of all the additional time missing out on the playoffs afforded them.