The Lakers want to get 20 games or so into the season and then re-assess how their season — and the fit of Russell Westbrook in coach Darvin Ham‘s system — is going.
But after Westbrook was benched for the closing seconds of the Lakers’ come-from-ahead loss to the Trail Blazers Sunday, that assessment may come sooner rather than later. The mood in the Lakers locker room after the game was tense, and multiple players, as well as Ham, talked about shot selection. While there were other questionable shots, what they were referencing came with :30 seconds left in the game, :18 seconds on the shot clock and the Lakers up by one — Westbrook inexplicably took and missed a mid-range jumper (he said he was trying to get the team a two-for-one). LeBron James and Anthony Davis‘ reactions say it all (as did the usually homer Laker broadcast, where Bill McDonald said, “no Russ, no”).
Bron and AD's reaction 😅 pic.twitter.com/6sbH6PE64b
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 24, 2022
The Lakers’ hope in waiting out the trade market is that as teams pivot to tank for Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, better trade offers than they saw over the summer will emerge. Ones that didn’t require them to surrender both first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029). However, the 0-3 start and the glaring Westbrook problem could push them to act more quickly. Shams Charania at The Athletic threw a couple of names in the mix — Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson.
Charlotte’s Terry Rozier emerged as a trade target for the Lakers in the offseason and their interest in him remains high, multiple sources tell The Athletic. The Lakers and Hornets held discussions about a possible three- or four-team trade during the summer, and hold him in high regard among their possible trade possibilities, but the dynamic Hornets guard’s availability will be entirely predicated on the franchise’s direction for the future and its play as the season goes on. Despite LaMelo Ball being sidelined with a Grade 2 ankle sprain and Rozier recently suffering his own sprained ankle, the Hornets and coach Steve Clifford are off to a 2-1 start in the Eastern Conference.
The Lakers have also held preliminary discussions with the Spurs in recent weeks, sources said, showing interest in three-and-D wing Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson has averaged nearly 13 points to start the season, shooting 47.1 percent on 5.67 three-point attempts per game.
A Hornets trade could involve the Lakers also taking on Gordon Hayward, who is a good player when healthy (averaging 19.3 points a game this season) but is owed $31.5 million next season, eating up the Lakers’ available cap space. Rozier has three seasons remaining on his contract after this one at a total of $73 million.
Richardson also is a solid winger making $12.2 million in the final season of his contract. The Spurs also have (and can create more) cap space to help absorb Westbrook’s contract in a deal. The price will be high in draft picks to make that happen.
The much-discussed potential trade with the Pacers for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield makes more sense for the Lakers than Rozier or Richardson, unless the cost in draft picks is so much lower that it tips the scales.
Which leads to the big question for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ brain trust: How much does subbing out Westbrook with a solid wing player help the team? Getting Rozier or Richardson would not make the Lakers contenders or maybe even a lock playoff team, and it’s debatable how far they can go with Turner and Hield (but they likely are top six). Are the Lakers better off holding on to their picks and waiting for a bigger move down the line, a trade that could really move the needle? Can the Lakers afford to wait with LeBron turning 38 in December?
The Lakers had hoped the trade buzz and energy around the team would change once real games started, but the 0-3 start has highlighted the team’s roster problems. This will not suddenly become a good shooting team, and there are no easy answers.