As the NBA season goes on, it becomes clearer that the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t true championship contenders. They could catch lightning in a bottle and go on a run if Anthony Davis can return from a mid-foot sprain, but even a late-season run seems unlikely given that the team is 8-12 in their last 20 games.
Russell Westbrook has picked up his play recently, averaging 22 points a game in his last four games, but he doesn’t look close to the player who won the MVP in 2017, when he averaged 31.6 points per game.
With Westbrook, 33, likely to pick up his $47 million player option this offseason, the Lakers won’t be able to offload him that easily. However, there might be one NBA team that could throw the Lakers a lifeline, according to Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report.
Buckley wrote in a March 24 story that he thinks a trade of Westbrook and the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick to the New York Knicks for Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier and Alec Burks would be a “realistic” option this offseason:
The ‘Bockers are in danger of missing the playoffs and erasing all of the good vibes they created during last year’s postseason breakout. Their point guard situation is dire enough that Westbrook could reasonably be viewed as an upgrade, and they have their own big-money deals to dump.
Giving Westbrook the keys could raise New York’s floor. He adds almost nothing as a third option, but he can still be super productive in a featured role. Just last season, he was giving the Washington Wizards 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds and making them better than they were without him.
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Why the Deal Would Make Sense for Lakers
Unless Westbrook finishes the Lakers’ final nine games of the season on fire and is a key contributor in some playoff wins, Los Angeles will likely do whatever it can to get him off the roster. According to a March 2 story by Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Lakers and Westbrook share an interest in shipping him to another team during the offseason.
Though many returns in a Westbrook trade wouldn’t significantly improve the Lakers, the one for Rose, Fournier and Burks would, Buckley wrote:
Meanwhile, the Lakers would wash their hands of the Westbrook experiment, consolidate his colossal contract into three more manageable ones and flesh out the roster with rotation-ready vets who are better fits for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Fournier and Burks are plus-shooters from the perimeter, and Rose has been the same for the past two seasons (albeit on low volume). All three are capable of creating offense for themselves and others, too, so L.A. could potentially lighten James’ workload and make his life easier when he’s on the floor.
Rose, a point guard who will be 34 when the 2022-23 season starts, is averaging 12 points and four assists a game. Shooting guard Fournier, 29, is averaging 14.4 points per game. And shooting guard/small forward Burks, 30, is averaging 11.2 points per game. The three players’ combined salary in 2022-23 will be $42.5 million, according to Spotrac, which is nearly $5 million less than Westbrook’s salary for next season.
Knicks Make Sense as a Trade Partner
If there’s any team that makes sense for Westbrook, it would be the Knicks. The team has been starving for a superstar-level player since Carmelo Anthony left. Westbrook is past his prime, but he can still be dynamic as the top option on a solid team. His presence alone could be enough to help return the Knicks to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Westbrook’s massive contract will come off the books at the end of the 2022-23 season, and he will then presumably hit free agency. If that happens, the Knicks would have ample cap space to spend on other stars, including LeBron James, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Nikola Jokic, who are all expected to become free agents if they don’t sign extensions.
The Knicks have been a mess for years but still are the biggest basketball brand in New York. Having all that salary cap space would be a great way for them to construct a roster that could turn around the franchise. They could get one dynamic year out of Westbrook and then move on.