The worst kept secret in the NBA is that the Los Angeles Lakers want to move on from Russell Westbrook. Despite rumors of them wanting to find a coach who can figure out how to use him, the team would likely unload him in a second if the right deal became available. The problem facing the team is that everybody knows they truly want to trade the former MVP.
The Lakers are going to have to give up some valuable assets if they want to get off the $47 million they’re set to owe Westbrook next season. According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, teams around the NBA are already making their trade demands to the Lakers clear:
Teams have been demanding the inclusion of at least one first-round pick to take on Westbrook’s massive expiring contract, according to league sources. Rival teams know how much of a public trainwreck last season was for the Lakers, and they’re not looking to do Los Angeles any favors by helping them off of Westbrook’s contract.
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Lakers Don’t Plan to Trade Picks to Get off Westbrook
The Lakers aren’t fooling anybody yet with their talk of keeping Westbrook but it’s certainly a possibility. The team really doesn’t want to trade any of their future first-round picks, per Buha.
The Lakers have four options with Westbrook: they can trade him, waive and stretch him, buy him out, or run it back with him next season. Rivals believe Los Angeles has to trade him ahead of training camp because the situation is untenable, especially after Westbrook’s exit-interview comments deflected blame toward LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the franchise.
But the Lakers don’t subscribe to that theory. As of now, they have no intention of using a first-round pick to facilitate a Westbrook trade, according to league sources.
The NBA season hasn’t even technically ended so there’s no reason for the Lakers to rush anything. It’s smart business to get the best deal possible. If Los Angeles can pull off trading Westbrook without giving up picks, that would be a big win.
Keeping Westbrook a ‘Grave Mistake’?
The Lakers can do whatever they want right now with next season still far away. However, there is a scenario where next season starts and Westbrook is still on the roster. Buha believes that would be a disastrous decision:
And it’s not merely a bluff or tactic to try to regain leverage in trade talks. That may be an ancillary motive, sure, but per league sources, there is a sentiment among some within the franchise that the right coach and a better supporting cast could smooth over Westbrook’s awkward fit with James and Davis.
Despite the Lakers’ due diligence with their various roster-building paths, retaining Westbrook would be a grave mistake.
Westbrook could possibly still be a good player for some teams but he’s not a fit on the Lakers. That’s obvious based on last season and even prime Phil Jackson isn’t going to fix that mess. The only reason the Lakers should consider keeping Westbrook is if they’re planning on using next season as a tune-up year for the new head coach and then hoping to land one of the big free agents in the 2023 class.