Lakers Urged to Target Defensive Specialist as Russell Westbrook Backup Plan

Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Lakers

Regardless of if the Los Angeles Lakers retain or trade Russell Westbrook, they’re going to need a backup guard, ideally one with vast NBA experience.

Luckily, there is currently a free agent point guard that fits the bill, and according to Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley, the Lakers might be able to convince him to join their roster on a team-friendly deal.

Of course, that guard is Eric Bledsoe, the former All-NBA Defensive First Team and All-NBA Defensive Second Team point guard.

“The 32-year-old unceremoniously hit the open market when the Portland Trail Blazers waived him before his contract became fully guaranteed for 2022-23. He wound up being overpaid on that contract (his full guarantee was for $19.3 million), but at the minimum, he could be a cheap source of point-of-attack defense, playmaking, and downhill driving. His peak is well behind him, but he could still excel in a reserve role on a minimum contract,” Buckley wrote on July 21.

Bledsoe ended last season with averages of 9.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game, while primarily operating with the second unit, and shooting 42.1% from the field and 31.3% from the perimeter.


Bledsoe Brings More Than Defense

At this juncture in his career, expecting Bledsoe to be nothing more than a point-of-attack defender is fair, but it would be underselling the upside he brings to the offensive side of the ball.

Sure, his presence would do nothing to dispel the spacing issues that riddled the Lakers last season, but Bledsoe’s ability to penetrate off the dribble, pressure the rim and find the right pass are all valuable tools in a second-string point guard.

Cleaning The Glass tracked Bledsoe shot 59% around the rim last season, and 39% from the mid-range, proving that he’s capable of forcing defensive collapses, and pressuring the rim when attacking close-outs. But, his presence would mean the Lakers would need to surround him with shooters – similar to what they will need to do for Westbrook this season if they expect to get the best out of him.


Westbrook Could be Staying in Los Angeles

Despite their overtures, it’s looking increasingly likely that Kyrie Irving will remain with the Brooklyn Nets for the upcoming season. According to a July 25 report from The Atheltic’s Shams Charania on an episode of the Pat McAfee Show, Irving has made the decision to remain with the Nets until his contract expires next summer.

“Kyrie Irving opted in with the full intent of playing out next season as a Brooklyn Net. From everything that I’ve been told, in his mind, he’s playing next year in Brooklyn – with or without Kevin Durant. Irving opted in, there was an understanding that he was going to make the best decision for himself, and Durant will be making his decision as well. From everything I’ve been told, Kyrie Irving has made his intent, he wants to play out next season in Brooklyn and be an unrestricted free agent next summer,” Charania said. 

Los Angeles could still look to move on from Westbrook, but with his $47 million contract due to expire next summer, they might be tempted to stand pat, run it back with their big three, and re-evaluate their roster after Darvin Ham’s first season – and that might not be the worst idea.

 

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