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The 2022 NBA trade deadline, NBA draft and heart of free agency have all come and gone, and the Lakers still have no resolution on their Russell Westbrook problem.
There are no easy solutions, and many uneasy questions.
Should the Lakers do whatever it takes to trade him? Can they open the 2022-23 season with Westbrook in their starting lineup? How about off the bench? Or should they give him the “John Wall treatment” like last year’s Houston Rockets, who paid Wall a maximum salary to sit out the season?
These questions were sent far and wide to a variety of NBA figures, from executives to agents to fellow colleagues in the media. The diversity in answers only emphasizes the when the Lakers face moving forward.
Trade Westbrook? At What Cost, and for Whom?
Ahead of February’s trade deadline, the Lakers were looking to find Westbrook a new home. So far, they haven’t found a viable solution.
LA has talked to teams like the Brooklyn Nets about Kyrie Irving and the Indiana Pacers for a combination of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. As things currently stand, there’s no deal to be had, though there’s still plenty of time for that to change before the start of the season.
“First, I’d swing for the fences in a trade,” an NBA media analyst said. “The ones I’ve heard for Kyrie with a shooter or Turner and Buddy seem unrealistic, but they should go for it. I’d do as many picks as needed to make a deal happen, as long as they have top-10 protection .”
Should the Lakers really be giving out unprotected or lightly protected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, years after the contracts of LeBron James and Anthony Davis expire? Is Irving—the most talented of the names mentioned—reliable enough for LA to rely on?
“The Lakers are pot-committed,” the analyst continued, referencing a poker situation where a player lacks leverage after making aggressive early bets. “I’d do those two picks for Buddy and Turner. I like that more than Kyrie. That dude flat-out frightens me. But I’d take him over the pie-in-the-sky-let-Russ-cook option .”
An NBA insider had a different (and broader) take on Irving and the Nets.
“Kyrie is the move. They should offer Davis with Westbrook. Try and get Kevin Durant. KD for AD and a pick is as close as [the Nets] will get to what they want.”
That may or may not be true considering that Davis hasn’t been consistently healthy, and the Boston Celtics might be able to trump a Lakers offer with Jaylen Brown as a centerpiece. An Indiana package may offer more depth, but is it enough?
“What do Buddy and Turner do for the Lakers? Add a 5 percent chance the team wins a title?” an NBA executive said. “That’s probably worth one protected first, but certainly not two.”
“Maybe if they could combine the Nets and Pacers into one trade, bring back Kyrie, Turner and Buddy, that’d be worth giving up a couple of firsts,” the executive continued. “Even if that saved the Nets a ton of money and Indiana got two firsts out of it, do they agree to work together to help LeBron and the Lakers contend?”
Meanwhile, an NBA agent suggests the Lakers should be patient in trading Westbrook.
“He’ll become easier to trade closer to the deadline [with the Lakers responsible for more than half of his 2022-23 salary]. That’s a lot less money for an owner to spend on,” the agent said. “Teams are more realistic on where they stand at that point. Other players become unhappy. Some may become available that [simply] aren’t right now.”
An NBA source also took a relatively conservative approach.
“I’d be willing to trade him for multiple role players and put one of the picks on the table,” the source said. “If you want both picks, it has to be for something more exciting than just a couple of rotation guys who probably don’t move the needle for title contention. What about [the Utah Jazz] for Mike Conley and Bojan [Bogdanovic]? Send Westbrook and one of the picks. They’re useful and potentially cheaper to get because of slightly negative-value contracts.”
Start, Bench or ‘John Wall’ Westbrook?
Once again, opinions were varied.
“If they come up with nothing in trade, they need to shoot for the moon by trying to have success with Russ,” the NBA media analyst said. “It’s not like they have young guys that need experience that he’s blocking.”
“Russ off the bench, maybe in a perfect world, but with pride and ego and role—I don’t know if that really helps much, either,” the analyst continued. “Try to sell LeBron on playing the Miami Heat role of off-ball finisher when he was shooting like 60 percent from the field. Start Russ and let him do Russ things with LeBron and AD playing off of him for the first 18 minutes of each half. Crunch time, Russ sits, and LeBron runs the show.”
The agent had the opposite take.
“They’re better without Russ, and he won’t come off the bench. Good luck with that. He’s going to b—h and moan. He thinks he’s the Russ of old,” the agent said. “‘John Wall’ him and take time… to know what they need before jumping in. The team can’t lose this trade, and everyone knows it. Trading just to trade is an awful mentality.”
The league source doesn’t buy it.
“I wouldn’t John Wall him. The Lakers care about titles. This team without Westbrook is going nowhere unless things got so bad that he was actively undermining stuff,” the league source said. “Stagger him and LeBron as much as possible. If he’s washed, then that’s a different issue. But part of the problem is that a tentative Westbrook is like the worst player ever. You have to figure out some way to empower him without indulging his worst clothes.”
If the Lakers cannot move Westbrook before the season, they might be best off starting him. It’s worth seeing what head coach Darvin Ham can do with the roster as constructed.
If Westbrook becomes a problem during the season, the Lakers could send him away until the trade deadline or cut him loose afterward if they don’t find a deal.
The various takes would have fallen in line if the path were obvious. It isn’t. But this is where the Lakers stand with two months to go before training camp opens in late September.
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.