Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Russell Westbrook trade rumors: Lakers showed ‘covert interest’ in dealing star guard earlier this season

The Los Angeles Lakers traded the bulk of their supporting cast for Russell Westbrook this offseason, and they’ve paid a hefty price for that decision. After starting the past two seasons extremely well, the 2021-22 Lakers are just 20-19 through 39 games despite playing one of the easiest and home-heaviest schedules in basketball. The Lakers have sorely missed the defense and depth they surrendered for Westbrook, who is averaging below 20 points per game for the first time in a decade. His rebound and assist numbers are down as well, his turnovers remain sky-high and he still can’t space the floor for LeBron James or the other Laker ball-handlers. 

There’s still time for him to turn things around, but overall, the Westbrook trade has thus far been a disappointment. The Lakers acquired him in part to help them win games when James and Anthony Davis missed time due to injury or rest. He’s struggled to do so, and given his poor playoff fit, the Lakers would be justified in having some buyer’s remorse. According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, they very well might have. 

Amick reported Wednesday that the Lakers “showed some covert interest” in dealing Westbrook earlier in the season. Nothing materialized likely due to Westbrook’s declining production and enormous contract. He will make over $44 million this season and has a player option for $47 million next season. 

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Very few teams have the capacity to match that salary in an in-season trade even if they are interested in Westbrook. The single sensible option at this moment would seemingly be a swap we’ve already seen once before: Westbrook for John Wall, as Wall has a contract identical to Westbrook’s and the Rockets have shown no qualms merely benching an expensive veteran point guard they don’t want. No credible reports have suggested that the Lakers are interested in such a deal. The only target the Lakers have reportedly sought in a Westbrook deal is Ben Simmons, and in that case, his presence in an offer was determined only by the process of elimination. The Lakers reportedly sought Simmons, but could only match his salary with one of their three max-salary players. Neither James nor Davis is expected to be traded, so Westbrook would have to have been the player heading to Philadelphia. 

An offseason trade of Westbrook would likely be easier for a few reasons. Westbrook’s contract will be expiring at that point, so the Lakers could theoretically entice a team with a longer-term contract to make a trade in order to save money in future years. Roster size limits are also relaxed in the offseason, and teams tend to be more flexible from a roster perspective. If the Lakers continue down this disappointing path, they will likely at least consider Westbrook trades in the summer.

The fact that they’ve already done so in-season suggests that they understand how poorly he has fit in with the team thus far. The Lakers thought they were getting a third star when they landed Westbrook. They haven’t, and with Malik Monk thriving as a secondary ball-handler and Kendrick Nunn set to return from injury soon, it isn’t clear how essential Westbrook’s skill set even is to this team anymore. A trade is unlikely during the season, but it makes perfect sense for the Lakers to explore the possibility in case an offer presents itself. 

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