Thursday, May 26, 2022

Lakers have ‘optics concerns’ about trading Russell Westbrook, won’t include 2027 first-round pick, per report

The Russell Westbrook experiment has not worked out for the Lakers. That sentence, in some capacity, has been written countless times by countless outlets. At this point, if there were a palatable way for the Lakers to get rid of Westbrook, they would. But so far, the only trade that seems halfway plausible is swapping Westbrook for John Wall

There are myriad concerns with this potential deal, chief among them the possibility that Wall might be just as bad for the Lakers as Westbrook has been. They are similar players with similarly problematic holes in their games to function as an effective floor-spacing, peripheral-playmaking source alongside LeBron James

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Besides that, the Rockets want more than Westbrook in return for Wall. They want the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick as a Westbrook tax, which, per longtime NBA insider Marc Stein, the Lakers are not willing to part with for Wall. 

A couple reasons for this. First, the Lakers want to keep that trade chip to potentially use in a trade for a player that significantly raises their championship prospects, which it is not believed Wall does. Second, there’s a lot of ego involved here. It won’t be a flattering look for the front office that gave up so much for Westbrook in the first place to turn around and give him up for so little. 

From Stein’s newsletter:

Yet there are also major optics concerns for the Lakers. Team officials, sources say, do not want to pay a premium to move on from Westbrook so soon after the Lakers gave up so much to get the Los Angeles native. Remember: They had to send Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the No. 22 pick in last July’s draft to Washington after James and Davis encouraged the Lakers’ front office to go all-in for Westbrook rather than proceed with GM Rob Pelinka’s plans to trade for Sacramento’s Buddy Hield.

Barring the emergence of an expanded trade construction that involves three or more teams, or allows for a Westbrook-for-Wall exchange without including the precious draft pick, L.A.’s clear preference, sources say, is to bank on Westbrook finding another gear in the second half like he did for the Wizards last season. It likewise must be noted in fairness that the Lakers, who awoke Wednesday mired at No. 8 in the West at 24-24, have had James, Davis and Westbrook healthy and in uniform together for only 16 of those 48 games.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne quoted a team source on Tuesday as saying that giving the Lakers’ new star trio the runway of a full season to find their collective footing “is the only option.”

To state the obvious: The Lakers would be far better off had they made the trade for Hield, or even simply kept KCP and Kuzma, than they are with Westbrook — and this is to say nothing of their cheaping out on Alex Caruso in large part because of the money they sunk into Westbrook (although they still could’ve paid Caruso). 

Now, you can understand the Lakers not wanting to give up that 2027 first-rounder, particularly for Wall, who likely won’t change their prospects all that much more than Westbrook (although I do think Wall would be better for them). 

But to make it about ego, to not want to admit the mistake of trading for Westbrook in the first place by paying a tax to get off him (if they do indeed have that opportunity), is the wrong move. 

You see this in professional sports all the time. A team will stick with a player longer than they should just because they gave that player more money than they should’ve, compounding their mistake rather than cutting the losses of it. If the Lakers, in any way, believe Wall can help them more than Westbrook, and there are no other trades out there, they need to strongly consider the move. 

Because you don’t waste LeBron years at this point, particularly with the way he’s playing this season. Making the Westbrook trade was a bad idea all along. Everyone except the Lakers knew that. If there’s a way they can get out of it, they should. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like there is, so the Lakers are back to closing their eyes and hoping Westbrook turns into a different player than he’s been for the last half decade. 

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