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Lakers seek Westbrook suitors as rebuild begins in Los Angeles

After failing to reach the NBA playoffs, the Lakers are set to start the overhaul of their underperforming roster by moving Russell Westbrook on.

Apr 5, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook reacts against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports

The rebuild at the Los Angeles Lakers has to begin with the departure of Russell Westbrook. If not, the revamp will fall short of what is needed to jumpstart a team that has just finished outside the top 10 in the Western Conference, despite potentially having four future Hall of Famers in their ranks and having won the NBA title under two years ago.

Westbrook’s salary makes Lakers exit very likely

A major influence on Westbrook’s likely exit from the Lakers is his contract situation. The point guard has the option to trigger a one-year, $47m extension before the market opens - and, as he’s unlikely to get another contract of that size given the drop in his market value, he can be expected to do so. That would leave the the Lakers with even less salary space next season than in this forgettable campaign.

Taking into account the $44.4m and $37.9m earned by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, respectively, Westbrook’s salary would be unsustainable and the Lakers need to move the 33-year-old on any way they can.

It appears Westbrook’s departure will end up happening. The player publicly insists that he wants to be a success alongside James and Davis, but privately accepts that it’s in his best interests to leave.

The Lakers must now find Westbrook a team that has the financial muscle to afford his salary and is one he wants to join. The Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in the midst of an aggressive rebuild, are a possibility, both because of the player’s successful, 11-year career in Oklahoma between 2008 and 2019, and the experience and leadership he could bring. However, the franchise’s focus is on youth, and the Thunder’s backcourt starters, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, are their chief stars.

Lakers seek Westbrook suitors as rebuild begins in Los Angeles

A home at the Hornets for Westbrook?

The search for teams willing to take Westbrook off the Lakers’ hands has also alighted on the Charlotte Hornets, explains NBA insider Marc Stein on Substack.

The Hornets are going to try to pull off two player departures that would free up a lot of salary space. Ex-Boston Celtics pair Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are viewed as expendable members of James Borrego’s roster. With Charlotte eager to extend Bridges’ deal this summer and prepare an extension for LaMelo Ball, Hayward and Rozier are prime candidates to be offloaded.

“Michael Jordan has long ranked as a Westbrook admirer,” Stein says, although that doesn’t mean the Hornets owner would be ready to absorb a contract as toxic as the 2017 MVP’s, even if it only has a year left on it.

If a trade for another player or players doesn’t come about, the Lakers will have to turn to plan B. The franchise would be left with no option but to release Westbrook. They would still have to pay him his $47m and this sum would affect their salary limit, but the waive-and-stretch provision in NBA’s rules gives Los Angeles some room for manoeuvre. The $47m could be spread out over several years, allowing the Lakers salary space to make the changes needed now and, in addition, to extend Malik Monk’s contract.

Indiana an option

The possibility that the Lakers could reach a deal with the Indiana Pacers has also been discussed. The journalist Shams Charania has reported in the Athletic that the Pacers are a viable alternative because of what they could offer in exchange. Point guard Malcolm Brogdon and the shooting guard Buddy Hield - a player who has been firmly on Los Angeles’ radar for the last two years - would be a potential package in a trade with the Lakers.