It’s not time to panic for the Los Angeles Lakers yet but it is time to be concerned. The team is 9-9 and doesn’t currently hold a playoff spot in the Western Conference if the season ended today. It’s been a rough start to the season and the team has yet to find its footing consistently.
A big reason for the struggles has been Russell Westbrook. The former MVP hasn’t been a seamless fit on the Lakers and there have been many growing pains. When the team first traded for him, many questioned the fit. Critics of the trade appear to be vindicated right now as Westbrook is playing some of his worst basketball.
Even though it’s early in his tenure with the team, many fans would already like to see him get traded again. However, that’s not going to happen due to his massive contract. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report is predicting the Lakers to be among the most active teams at the trade deadline but detailed why a Westbrook trade is unlikely:
The Lakers made a massive trade over the summer, but the Russell Westbrook swap has not catapulted the team to the top of the Western Conference. The franchise may not be likely to change course, and moving Westbrook’s $44.2 million salary (plus a $47.1 million player option for 2022-23) would be extremely difficult in-season.
Outside of John Wall with the Houston Rockets (on a similar contract to Westbrook) or Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers ($60.2 million owed through 2022-23), the opportunities may be nonexistent. It’s a stretch to suggest the Rockets or Cavaliers would consider Westbrook.
Obviously, the Lakers wouldn’t have an interest in trading Westbrook for Wall or Love.
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Talen Horton-Tucker Only Lakers Trade Piece?
Just because the Lakers can’t trade Westbrook, doesn’t mean they won’t still be active at the trade deadline. The team gave up most of their best tradeable assets to acquire the former MVP but still has a couple of appealing young players. Pincus believes that Talen Horton-Tucker or Kendrick Nunn could garner some interest.
After LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook, the only Lakers who earn above minimum contracts are Talen Horton-Tucker (on a three-year, $30.8 million deal) and Kendrick Nunn ($10.3 million over two). Both are young, talented guards with player options in their final seasons. Nunn has yet to play because of a knee injury.
If the Lakers are willing to include one or more of their minimum players in a trade, they could go after a player in the low $20 million range (like Jerami Grant with the Pistons). Los Angeles had the opportunity to acquire Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors for Horton-Tucker (among others) but chose to reinvest in the emerging guard. He may now be the team’s only viable path to an impactful in-season trade.
THT Making Strong Case to Stay With Lakers
Horton-Tucker is one of the most intriguing young players in the NBA. He was a second-round draft pick in 2019 and not highly touted coming out of college. However, the Lakers have loved what they’ve seen from him, which is why they gave him $30.8 million in the offseason. Plus, he’s only 20-years-old so there’s a ton of room for him to grow.
With the way he’s playing right now, the Lakers will have a very difficult time moving on from him. He’s averaging 16.0 points per game and 6.0 rebounds – both career highs. He’s developing into a dependable fourth or fifth option for the team. While that makes him more valuable in a possible trade, he also has a lot of value to the Lakers. Unless a team makes Los Angeles an offer they can’t refuse, it’s hard to see them letting go of Horton-Tucker right now.