The Los Angeles Lakers have made it perfectly clear that they do not plan to give up first-round picks to move Russell Westbrook, but if a deal came along that wouldn’t require significant draft compensation? That might be another story. Until now, interest in the former MVP point guard has appeared tepid, but in recent days, there has been a bit of buzz about one team in particular: the Charlotte Hornets. According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Charlotte’s interest in Westbrook is “real.”
What is motivating that interest is a bit more complicated. The Hornets have LaMelo Ball, a young star point guard, already on their roster. But in two years, they’re going to have to pay him. Miles Bridges will be a restricted free agent next month, and The Athletic’s Shams Charania is reporting that the Hornets are hesitant to sign him to a max deal. Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are already on expensive long-term deals, and P.J. Washington should join them next season. In other words, the Hornets are about to get very expensive, very quickly, and Michael Jordan does not appear interested in paying the luxury tax.
This is where Westbrook comes in. He is more expensive than any Hornet next season with a $47 million salary (once he picks up his player option). However, his contract expires then, so if the Hornets want to save money for the long haul, they could send the Lakers Hayward, Rozier or any other unwieldy contracts on their books in an effort to clear up their finances for the future.
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Also worth noting here is that Kenny Atkinson, expected to replace James Borrego as Charlotte’s head coach, ultimately turned down the job at the 11th hour to remain with the Golden State Warriors. That has allowed Mike D’Antoni, who coached Westbrook in Houston, to re-enter the fray.
For now, no Westbrook trade appears imminent. The Lakers don’t appear especially enthused by the idea of taking on long-term salary when their books are set to clear next offseason. But after a miserable season with Westbrook on their roster, they might finally have an opportunity to deal him without sacrificing their future draft capital. If they do, it’s an option they have to explore.