The blame for that has to start with Laker GM Rob Pelinka — and LeBron himself, who pushed for this trade — for not envisioning how poorly a ball-dominant Westbrook would not work as a No. 3 option. Or, even as a No. 1 option on the nights LeBron and Anthony Davis are out. Westbrook not fitting in is one of the reasons the Lakers don’t have a team identity 62 games into the season.
Westbrook himself deserves a healthy serving of blame as well.
When he has set screens, when he has cut off the ball, and when he’s taken over the second unit, there have been flashes of what the Lakers’ offense could be. It never lasts, and Marc Stein in his newsletter says that comes back to Westbrook.
There has been no shortage of defiance behind the scenes, I’m told, when coaches and teammates have tried to broach changes in role or approach with the former MVP. For all the obvious complexities involved in trying to move Westbrook when he’s owed a whopping $47 million next season at age 34, one league source described the idea of bringing him back next season as “impossible” based on current tension levels. The question then becomes: If the Lakers can’t construct a palatable trade, do they try to just buy Westbrook out? Or waive and stretch him?
After the most recent Lakers’ blowout loss, Frank Vogel was asked if the coaching staff had talked about bringing Westbrook off the bench as a microwave scorer, in kind of a Jordan Clarkson/Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford way.
“We’ve talked about everything,” Vogel said. When pressed if it could happen, Vogel repeated, “We’ve talked about everything.”
Vogel can’t say the quiet part out loud, but Stein did — and nailed another problem with this year’s Lakers.
There have already been reports that the Lakers and Westbrook are mutually ready to part ways. Stein reinforces that with the word “impossible.”
The challenge is making the divorce work because of Westbrook’s massive salary, $47.1 million. The trade for John Wall could be back on the table, but in a form that brings another talented player or two — maybe Eric Gordon and/or Christian Wood — to Los Angeles. With Westbrook on an expiring contract this summer, there should be more options to consider outside of the straight swap with Houston.
The Lakers could waive-and-stretch Westbrook, but they shouldn’t expect any buyout discount from him. That would put $15.7 million in dead money on the Lakers’ books for each of the next three seasons, a heavy anchor dragging down team building for years to come. However, the Lakers would save almost $31.4 million next season, not enough to get them under the salary cap so they can chase free agents. Still, it could get them low enough to use the full mid-level exception (instead of the reduced tax-payer version), and it would reduce the Lakers’ luxury tax bill.
However that relationship ends, it’s going to end this offseason. Everyone is ready to move on.