It’s starting to look like a matter of time before Russell Westbrook is traded by the Los Angeles Lakers. His first year with the team was an unmitigated disaster and there’s no sense trying to fix something that just won’t work. Deciding to trade Westbrook is an easy decision but actually pulling it off is much more complicated.
He’s due $47 million in salary next season if he picks up his player option, which he almost certainly will. Considering his decline has been massive, not many teams will be thrilled about adding him. However, there might be one team that’d be happy to have him and it’s the only team that’s been willing to employ him for more than one season. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report believes that the Oklahoma City Thunder could make sense as a trade partner for the Lakers:
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team with significant cap space (approximately $32 million). That’s not enough to absorb Westbrook’s $44.2 million in June, but it would work if the Lakers took on Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala (assuming both of their options are picked up for next season before July).
Oklahoma City is likely to climb over the cap July 1, when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s extension kicks in. The franchise could aggressively look to take on unwanted contracts in May or June to help two or three teams dump salary—for multiple draft considerations, naturally. For a contract as big as Westbrook’s, the Thunder would certainly demand a pair of first-rounders (likely in 2027 and 2029).
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Trading Westbrook to Thunder Would Give Lakers Trade Exception
L.A. would also get a massive trade exception via the Thunder ($31 million), available for an entire year to help the Lakers find additional talent in future trades. If the team used its NTMLE or BAE, it would have a hard spending limit of $155.7 million, so the Lakers might need to redirect players such as Favors to another franchise to utilize a full exception.
That trade exception would give the Lakers the ability to trade for a bigger contract without having to send one out.
Thunder Make Sense for Westbrook
Oklahoma City is where Westbrook became an icon and where he was when he won an MVP in 2017. After spending 11 seasons with the Thunder, he’s been on three teams in three seasons. He’s clearly not a fit anywhere else. The team still isn’t close to being a contender and they are the ones who gave Westbrook his current contract.
Going back to where it all started makes the most sense for the guard. It may not make the most sense for the Thunder or the Lakers but this is the most Westbrook should be hoping for. If he had dreams of being the best player on a championship team, those should be long dead. He might as well at least play somewhere where the fans appreciate him.