After the first wave of free agency ended and teams went on vacation following Summer League play in July, four major trade candidates lingered on the market: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, and Russell Westbrook.
Following another month of rumors, Durant ultimately rescinded his trade request, which seemingly resolved Irving’s situation as well — neither Net is going anywhere, at least for the time being. Mitchell was subsequently sent from Utah to Cleveland, leaving Westbrook as the lone big-name trade candidate who seems like a decent bet to be on the move before training camps open.
The Lakers‘ motivation for seeking a new home for Westbrook has been well documented. The former MVP’s first year in Los Angeles wasn’t a success, as his ball-dominant style and inability to stretch the floor proved incompatible with LeBron James and Anthony Davis during the rare instances when all three stars were healthy and shared the court.
Westbrook also appeared unwilling to take responsibility for his part in the Lakers’ struggles. Despite Frank Vogel‘s insistence on sticking with the point guard, who started all 78 games he played and was part of nearly every closing lineup, Westbrook told reporters at season’s end that he wasn’t given a “fair chance” to be himself and suggested that Vogel had “an issue” with him.
While the Lakers’ disaster of a 2021/22 season made it clear that Westbrook would be on the trade block this summer, his $47MM+ cap hit hasn’t made it easy to find a taker. Los Angeles would love to be able to send Westbrook’s expiring contract to a team in exchange for two or three useful rotation players, but any trade partner open to taking on Westbrook is believed to be seeking multiple first-round picks — at least one for absorbing Westbrook’s salary and another for sending out a couple useful players.
The Lakers only have two tradable first-round picks (2027 and 2029) and have thus far been unwilling to include both of them in any deal that doesn’t involve Irving. The rebuilding Pacers (Myles Turner, Buddy Hield) and Jazz (Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley) remain logical matches for the Lakers, since both teams have the ability to trade productive veterans and absorb Westbrook’s money.
But for a deal to be made, the Lakers will either need to relent and give up both their future first-rounders or convince a trade partner to take just one of them (along with perhaps a couple second-rounders and/or first-round swap rights in another year).
With no indication there has been much traction on the Westbrook trade front, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham and owner Jeanie Buss have been talking enthusiastically about the ways they believe Westbrook can fit and succeed with a new-look 2022/23 Lakers team.
I have no doubt that Ham, a first-time head coach who will bring a fresh perspective to the franchise, genuinely believes he can make it work, but it’s hard not to interpret the Lakers’ optimistic comments to the press as spin — if potential trade partners believe L.A. is OK with hanging onto Westbrook and hoping for the best, perhaps those trade partners will reduce their asking prices to get something done.
With training camps less than three weeks away, we should learn pretty soon how serious the Lakers are about retaining Westbrook. In the meantime, we want to know what you think. Will Westbrook open the season as a Laker or be traded in the coming weeks?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your two cents!