Rumor: Lakers believe Russell Westbrook coming in 2017

Associated Press
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Go to your local grocery store and buy a box of Kosher salt (the good stuff) for this one. You’re going to need it.

Lakers management does believe that in the next couple summers they are going to land a major free agent that is going to quickly change the 9-40 team’s fortunes. Someone who can lead a young core with D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance to contender status again.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith (hence the need for all the salt) was on ESPN 710s Mason and Ireland show Friday (as transcribed by the LA Examiner) and stuck by his Kevin Durant to the Lakers this summer rumor and said the reason is Russell Westbrook (who is a free agent in 2017).

“Keep in mind this, one of the biggest reasons I’m told, that Kevin Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list, is because the Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know, but the Lakers have been led to believe that it is a very good chance that the following year Russell Westbrook is coming….

“It’s a big possibility,” Smith said. “It’s a big possibility.”

Again, sprinkle liberally with salt.

What this rumor has going for it are twofold: There are people with ties to Durant who would like to push him to a larger market like L.A. or New York; also there is a sense among some observers that Westbrook is the guy more drawn to the bright lights of a big city and might be more likely to leave Oklahoma City than Durant. If Westbrook told Durant he was leaving (far from a given) then Durant would have to consider a move, too.

The problems with this rumor… well, there’s too many to list them all here. At the top: Durant is not a guy swayed by the bright lights, he’s in his prime at age 27, he wants to win now, and going to the Lakers from OKC — with Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — would be a step back. The Lakers do not have a third player as good as Ibaka, and while there is potential with their depth, there is still development needed. Plus, who will be the Lakers’ coach next season? What is their team identity? The Thunder are starting to figure that out under Billy Donovan of late; the Lakers are much farther down the curve.

And the Thunder can offer both Durant and Westbrook more money.

My guess? Durant signs a two-year deal with the Thunder this summer with an opt-out after one — he gets a big payday and sets himself up for a bigger one in 2017 (when the salary cap is projected to jump to $108 million, up from $90 million next season and $67 million this season). At that point, Durant and Westbrook may make choices about what’s next. But right now winning a title matters and they are far closer to that in Oklahoma City than L.A. or New York.