Allow me to sum up the latest Russell Westbrook trade speculation: If the Lakers deal Westbrook this summer, they want quality veteran players who can help them win now in return.
Good luck with that.
Westbrook trade speculation will be background noise to the playoffs, whether the league wants it to or not. Welcome to the modern NBA. One of the early rumors came from Marc Stein, who suggested the Charlotte Hornets as a possible trade partner sending Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier back to Los Angeles (the Hornets get off some long term salary, making it easier to pay Miles Bridges then LaMelo Ball in the coming years). Hayward reportedly wants a change of scenery, adding to the intrigue.
But on Sunday, new reporting from Stein shot down his old idea in his latest Substack missive.
Yet it has since been conveyed to me that the Lakers have more boundaries than advertised when it comes to weighing Westbrook trades. One league source said that injury histories would be a prime consideration in any deal, given how injuries have so routinely intruded upon the last two seasons for both 37-year-old LeBron James and 29-year-old Anthony Davis.
Translation: The Lakers are unlikely to consent to a Charlotte trade headlined by Gordon Hayward — not after Hayward’s first two seasons in Charlotte have likewise been injury-filled…
An ideal scenario for the Lakers is turning Westbrook’s contract into two (or more) veteran newcomers who can help them immediately and, of course, stay on the court. It would be the inverse, in essence, of the ill-conceived trade that sent Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell to Washington to acquire Westbrook
Again, to sum up, the Lakers want to trade Westbrook for quality role players who can help them win now.
Of course they do. That should be the goal. But their options may be limited. Westbrook’s value to most teams is as a big contract — $47.1 million for next season (a player option he will pick up) — that a team will take on for a year (or just buyout) to free up long-term financial flexibility. Put simply: If a player is living up to a long-term contract, why would a team trade him? The Lakers will have to take on some questionable multi-year contracts to get a deal done, it’s just a matter of finding the best bests and rolling the dice.
Westbrook, for his part, needs a better fit. Wherever that might be. He can still play and put up counting stats for the Lakers — 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists a game — but he shot 29.8% from 3 and had a below league average .521 true shooting percentage. He’s not efficient at this point in his career, and that, combined with a ball dominant style, makes him a tough fit for a lot of teams. Which is to say, any Westbrook trade is more about accounting than it is about getting a former MVP player for any Laker trade partner.
From the Lakers’ perspective, any Westbrook trade is likely about degrees of risk — how much are they willing to take on (in bad contracts or injured players) to move on from last summer’s mistake? We’ll be speculating about that until a deal gets done.