What are the Los Angeles Lakers going to do with Russell Westbrook?
Beverley’s arrival suggests that Westbrook is going to leave and the Lakers have options to get rid of the point guard, whose days may be numbered in L.A.
On August 6, 2021, Russell Westbrook was officially traded to the Lakers. Now, more than a year later, the Los Angeles team is close to resolving the mess that has been made since then, a mess that included the team’s failure to make the playoffs.
The story of that boy born in Los Angeles leaving behind years of difficult times and achieving redemption in the city of his dreams was too beautiful to be true.
Westbrook has been a burden for the Lakers, and rumors about his departure only multiplied throughout the season and later, through the summer market.
Beverley in... Westbrook out?
Right now, with the arrival of Patrick Beverley, it seems more likely than ever that Westbrook is going to leave the Lakers. And for some, his adventure with those in purple and gold has already lasted way too long.
Westbrook will likely not play for the Lakers next season. It seems incredible: after all, LeBron James and Anthony Davis spoke favorably of him and convinced the board to make the transfer happen.
LeBron’s influence forced the franchise to give in to their biggest star, while then-head coach Frank Vogel was not convinced he could train a piece that did not fit with his defensive system nor with the culture he had created in a team that won the ring in 2020.
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The rest, the basketball world knows: Vogel went out the back door and analysts and Lakers fans got fed up with Westbrook.
The premise now is clear: the aim is not even to get revenue for the former star, currently viewed as a toxic product. The objective now is that the point guard and his $47 million (the player option which he logically accepted after finishing the season) leave Los Angeles.
NBA insider Jovan Buha of The Athletic has reported that Beverley’s move to the Lakers will eventually leave Westbrook out of the equation.
A page from the Rockets playbook
The Lakers are going to do this whether or not they have to pay him that $47 million. How? Very easily. If a trade doesn’t go through, Los Angeles will set Westbrook aside and send him home. We have already seen this tactic on other occasions, most recently last year with the Houston Rockets and John Wall.
At the time, Wall had no place in a young and promising project, and head coach Stephen Silas did not want him in the system. Solution? The point guard continues to collect from the team, but away from them.
The message from the Lakers is therefore very obvious, and it doesn’t seem that they are going to move from their position. The decision is made. It only remains to know what exactly will happen and how events will unfold.
Another reason for taking Westbrook out has been much talked about since Beverley’s arrival. The relationship between the two players is worrying- their clashes on the court have been constant and physical confrontations have been numerous.
Things came to a head in the 2013 playoffs, when the Oklahoma City Thunder, finalists the previous year, were favorites for the ring. During one of the first-round games against the Houston Rockets, Westbrook was calling timeout in the center of the court, and Beverley performed an ugly action by pouncing on the point guard’s knee, injuring it and rendering Westbrook out of action.
Kevin Durant was able to win the series against the Rockets without the injured 2017 NBA MVP with great effort, but he didn’t do the same against the Memphis Grizzlies and OKC said goodbye in the semifinals. It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when Westbrook was essential to his team.
Pacers most likely to trade for Westbrook
There are two transfer options, but one is clearly above the other. The Pacers are, in theory, the best receivers for Westbrook in a trade that would include Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. The ace that the Lakers have is the one that they are going to have to play if they want the transfer to take place: to give, in addition to Westbrook, the first two rounds of the draft that they have in their hand (2024 and 2027).
The Los Angeles team had been keeping this card throughout the offseason in the hope of getting Kyrie Irving.
Once the waters calm down in Brooklyn, the solution would be to go through both rounds to get Turner, a center who gets injured a lot but who was the most appetizing piece for all the teams in February and finally didn’t come out from Indiana... and Hield, a highly questioned player but a shooter who doesn’t need a ball and has a good relationship with LeBron and company. But above all, the best thing about this move would be getting rid of Westbrook. That, always.
The Lakers want to reserve one of those rounds to strengthen the roster in February, but they may have no choice but to give both. With the $20 million that Hield will receive and the $18 million of Turner, they guarantee $9 million space compared to the $47 million that they would have to pay Westbrook, a figure that hardly varies with the departures of Talen Horton-Tucker (more than $10 million) and Stanley Johnson (just over $2 million) for Beverley (who will earn $13 million next year).
If the transfer is made, the quintet would be made up of Beverley-Hield-LeBron-Davis-Turner. Austin Reaves would jump off the bench and Dennis Schröder could return to L.A. A more than considerable fix on the part of the board after LeBron’s extension and that would resolve the excess caused by the arrival of Westbrook who, if he leaves, would fill the Los Angeles franchise with relief.
The Donovan Mitchell option
The other less likely option is to participate in the Donovan Mitchell trade, which would have the exchange involve the New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz. This would have Westbrook end up with the Jazz under conservative manager Danny Ainge, who is rebuilding a team (as are the Pacers). After the departure of Rudy Gobert, he would only have to wait one season to let Westbrook go free and start looking to the future.
This is how things are in the Lakers of David Hamm, LeBron, Davis and company. A team that did not even reach the playoffs last season and that hopes to recover from such a dismal failure to fight for the ring again.
One way or another, it looks like Russell Westbrook’s fate is sealed. Whether with the Pacers, the Jazz or at home, it looks more like the NBA star will not wear the Lakers jersey again. A long drawn-out drama that, little by little, approaches its end.