Russell Westbrook

Locker Room Leaders Believe Lakers Are “Couple Of Players Away” From Contention

Sources tell ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that there’s a “shared belief by leaders in the Lakers‘ locker room that the team is only a couple of players away” from contention. He doesn’t list them by name, but presumably McMenamin is referring to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

McMenamin mostly focuses on the pros and cons of the potential Russell Westbrook for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner deal with the Pacers that fell apart before the season when the Lakers refused to include both of their movable first-round picks (2027 and 2029). L.A. faces Indiana on Monday night.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski previously reported that the Lakers were going to wait until around Thanksgiving to evaluate the team before making any changes. McMenamin reports that the timeline has been adjusted to December 15, when most free agents signed in the offseason become trade-eligible.

However, as McMenamin notes, December trades are pretty rare because “league business slows down around the holidays,” so he views mid-January as a more likely timeframe for potential trades. If the 11-8 Pacers keep winning, the Lakers believe Pacers owner Herb Simon might be unwilling to trade Hield and Turner for a deal focused on draft capital, preferring to field a more competitive club.

The Lakers have played better of late, winning five of their past six games, and currently sit with a 7-11 record. But their schedule was pretty soft during that stretch (three wins over the Spurs, one over the Pistons), and they’re about to play 15 of their next 23 games on the road, per McMenamin.

McMenamin suggests the Lakers might be better off making a couple of trades instead of going all-in on the Pacers deal — one involving Westbrook and one first-rounder, and another involving Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and the other first-round pick — to get impact players. That’s assuming the front office decides the team has a legitimate shot at title contention, of course.

Whichever path they take, whether it be minor or major trades, the Lakers are focused on upgrading their perimeter shooting and size, sources tell Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

Trade Rumors: Collins, Jazz, Clarkson, Fournier, Robinson, More

Many around the NBA thought it was a foregone conclusion that John Collins would be moved ahead of the draft this past summer, and Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack article that the Hawks power forward was “very nearly” dealt to the Kings in June.

Sources tell Stein that there’s “momentum building on all sides” for Collins to be traded during the 2022/23 season, so his name should be “right at the top of the list” of players most likely to be dealt before the February 9 deadline.

Stein confirms that the Jazz have shown interest in Collins, and that’s a noteworthy pivot for a team that many believed would be tanking and a frontrunner for a top lottery pick after dealing away Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and other veterans.

Speaking of Utah, a rival executive tells Stein that he thinks the Jazz are more likely to extend Jordan Clarkson‘s contract than trade him. Michael Scotto of HoopsHype hears similarly, saying there’s “palpable buzz” about a potential Clarkson extension.

Here are a few more trade rumors from Scotto, who takes a look at the top trade candidates for each NBA team:

  • The Knicks are reluctant to part with a first-round pick to move off Evan Fournier‘s contract, sources tell Scotto. Fournier has fallen out of New York’s rotation after a prolonged shooting slump and is owed $18MM this season and $18.9MM in 2023/24. In addition to Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley, rival executives also believe that second-year guard Miles McBride is available due to the team’s backcourt logjam, per Scotto.
  • The Heat have made Duncan Robinson available in trade talks, sources tell Scotto. That’s hardly surprising since Robinson, like Fournier, has struggled and fallen out of the rotation at times in ’22/23. The problem is Miami would almost certainly have to attach assets to deal Robinson, who is owed $57.5MM over the next three seasons, and it remains to be seen whether the Heat are willing to do so.
  • Echoing a previous report, Scotto writes that the Lakers were trying to offload Russell Westbrook to the Spurs for Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson before the season started. While LJ Ellis of SpursTalk.com stated that the Lakers were only willing to attach two second-round picks to Westbrook’s enormous expiring contract, Scotto hears the Lakers offered a lottery-protected first-rounder and the Spurs wanted that pick to be unprotected, which caused the talks to stall.
  • Center Nerlens Noel is not expected to finish the ’22/23 season with the Pistons, according to Scotto. It’s unclear if Scotto means he’ll be bought out at some point or moved in a trade, since Noel’s $9.2MM contract doesn’t have positive value given how many injuries he’s dealt with the past couple seasons.

Lakers Notes: Davis, Reaves, Westbrook, Walker

The Lakers‘ problems haven’t gone away, but the team is feeling good after winning three straight games for the first time in nearly a year, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic. With LeBron James sidelined by an adductor strain, Anthony Davis has delivered three games in a row with at least 30 points and 16 rebounds. He’s “playing out of his mind,” coach Darvin Ham said after the Lakers were plus-34 in Davis’ 28 minutes in Sunday’s win over the Spurs.

Davis has shaken off early-season back issues to become the dominant force that he was when L.A. won the title in 2020. He’s shooting 61.7% from the field during the winning streak while averaging 35.0 points, 17.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.

“Just imposing my will on both sides of the ball, trying to be the dominant player that the team needs me to be,” Davis said. “It’ll usually lead to us winning basketball games or in the fight, so doing everything he’s asking of me, the team is asking of me and just trying to do my part, honestly.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • Austin Reaves is making a strong case to keep his spot in the starting lineup, Buha adds. Reaves scored 17 points in the first half Sunday and finished with 21, marking the fifth time in the last six games that he has reached double figures. Ham responded, “We’ll see,” when asked if Reaves will remain a starter once James returns.
  • Russell Westbrook injured his right thumb on Sunday, tweets Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Westbrook had a wrap on his hand as he left the arena, and Ham said further tests will be conducted Monday. Initial X-rays were negative (Twitter link).
  • Lonnie Walker is having his most productive season after signing with the Lakers over the summer, and his former coach isn’t surprised, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Gregg Popovich helped develop Walker during the four years he spent in San Antonio and has watched him figure out the NBA game. “Learn how to play with teammates, understand what solid meant as far as winning and losing. And that takes a little bit of time. And he’s definitely progressed throughout in that regard,” Popovich said. “He continues on that path. He’s done a really good job. Because he always depended just on that athletic ability, it was so ridiculous compared to other people. But now he understands more the mental side of the game with each year that passes, and you can see that in his play.”

Lakers Notes: Westbrook, Christie, Schröder, Bryant

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook has undoubtedly performed better since head coach Darvin Ham decided to bring him off the bench. In three games (28.5 minutes) as a starter, he averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on .280/.083/.800 shooting compared to 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists on .449/.415/.810 shooting in nine games (29.6 minutes) as a reserve.

However, as Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group writes, turnovers and unpredictable play have tempered Westbrook’s otherwise solid production since the transition. He’s averaging 4.4 turnovers off the bench and sometimes meanders through important possessions without setting the offense.

According to Goon, Ham replaced Westbrook with rookie Max Christie with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ victory over Brooklyn on Sunday, and the team’s lead went from six points up to 18 in five minutes. Westbrook struggled to close the third quarter, going 0-for-3 with a turnover during a stretch that saw the Lakers’ 16-point lead cut down to three.

There’s mounting evidence that it might be wise for Ham to sit Westbrook at the end of games, Goon notes. Even though it’s been a team-wide issue for the 3-10 Lakers, Westbrook is shooting just 1-for-7 in clutch situations and has the worst plus/minus (-19) on the roster in those minutes.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Christie, the 35th overall pick of June’s draft, has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin tweets. The 19-year-old has been in the rotation over the past four games, averaging 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 50% from three-point range in 20.2 minutes per game over that stretch.
  • Ham told reporters that Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant are probable for Friday’s game against the Pistons, per Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet (Twitter link). Both players underwent thumb surgery just before the regular season began and have yet to play this season, so Friday could mark their 2022/23 debuts.
  • LeBron James was a non-contact participant in Wednesday’s practice, Bresnahan adds. James is considered day-to-day with a left adductor strain. His status will be updated Thursday.

Fischer’s Latest: Bogdanovic, Lakers, Crowder, G. Allen

When the Pistons unexpectedly beat out rival suitors to acquire Bojan Bogdanovic in September, some executives around the NBA viewed it as a signal that Detroit was accelerating its timeline and making a push for the play-in tournament, writes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. However, it’s unclear if the Pistons are ready to take that step forward, having gotten off to a 3-9 start this season.

If the Pistons continue to struggle and Bogdanovic (19.3 PPG on .487/.457/.917 shooting) keeps playing anywhere near the level that he has in the early going, it could put the team in a good position to flip the veteran forward for value at this season’s trade deadline, Fischer notes.

The Pistons did sign Bogdanovic to a two-year, $39MM extension last month, but that contract shouldn’t hurt his trade value and might even improve it for some suitors, especially since the second year of the extension is only lightly guaranteed, Fischer writes. And even if the Pistons hang onto Bogdanovic through this season, he’ll now be movable in the 2023 offseason and beyond.

“What it really does is it gives them contract control so it’s easier to trade him in July, when a team that needs him is far more likely to have cap space and wiggle room,” an assistant general manager told Yahoo Sports.

Here’s more from Fischer:

  • The Lakers inquired on Bogdanovic when he was a member of the Jazz and could still have interest if the Pistons were to make him available, according to Fischer, who points out that a package of Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel would be enough to match Russell Westbrook‘s expiring deal. If the Lakers are hesitant to make an all-in move, a package like that could hold some appeal, since it shouldn’t cost them both of their tradable first-round picks, says Fischer.
  • The Suns were another team with interest in Bogdanovic before he was traded out of Utah and could still put together a package built around Jae Crowder‘s expiring contract, Fischer writes, adding that there’s no indication that Crowder and the Suns will reunite even after starting forward Cameron Johnson went down with a knee injury.
  • It’s unclear whether the Bucks have interest in Bogdanovic, but they’re among Crowder’s potential suitors and could hypothetically offer Grayson Allen for him, according to Fischer, who hears from sources that Milwaukee has been calling teams to gauge Allen’s trade value.
  • While Allen looks like the kind of rotation piece the Suns are known to be seeking in exchange for Crowder, Fischer wonders if Phoenix might become more inclined to wait until closer to the trade deadline to see if any higher-impact players shake loose — Crowder’s expiring contract could be an important piece in any offer for a player of that caliber.

Lakers Rumors: Trades, Beal, Davis, Westbrook, LeBron, FAs

With the Lakers off to a 2-9 start this season and no signs that a turnaround is imminent, VP of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and the team’s front office face a difficult decision, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report.

As Haynes outlines, the Lakers must decide whether to continue pushing their chips into the middle of the table by making more win-now trades this season or whether they’d be better off waiting until the 2023 offseason to pursue major moves.

Waiting until next summer would mean Russell Westbrook‘s $47MM+ expiring contract would no longer be on the team’s books. It would also put the Lakers in position to trade an additional draft pick, since they could move their 2023 first-rounder (once the Pelicans exercise their swap rights) after the pick has been made.

However, LeBron James has a finite number of high-level seasons left and doesn’t want to waste a year waiting for reinforcements, sources tell Haynes. Other core players on the roster would also prefer the team to make win-now moves, Haynes adds.

As has been reported repeatedly throughout the offseason and into the season, the Lakers don’t want to move their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in a deal that doesn’t significantly improve their chances of contending for a title. According to Haynes, there’s not a universal belief within the club’s front office that acquiring Myles Turner and Buddy Hield from the Pacers would move the needle to that degree.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • The Lakers are “known to covet” Bradley Beal, according to Haynes. However, the Wizards guard just signed a five-year contract with the team that includes a full no-trade clause, so he’d have to ask out of Washington for L.A. – or any other team – to have a shot at him.
  • As Jovan Buha reported earlier this week, the Lakers aren’t considering trading Anthony Davis, Haynes confirms. However, Haynes hears from sources that the team has received more calls about Russell Westbrook as of late — those talks haven’t advanced beyond the initial stages though.
  • LeBron James, who was diagnosed with a left adductor strain, has been ruled out for Friday’s game vs. Sacramento, and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter video link via The Rally) hears that James is expected to miss Sunday’s game vs. Brooklyn too. After Sunday, the team is off until next Friday.
  • In the same video clip, Charania also reports that free agent wings Joe Wieskamp and Tony Snell recently worked out for the Lakers, whose .293 3PT% ranks last in the NBA.

Spurs Rumors: Poeltl, Richardson, McDermott, Jones, Wright

The Spurs haven’t been discussing trades with teams around the NBA since around the time Joshua Primo was waived and word of his alleged misconduct first broke, according to LJ Ellis of SpursTalk.com.

Ellis speculates that management may have its handful dealing with the fallout of the Primo situation, and wonders if an unexpectedly strong start in San Antonio may have the team feeling more inclined to stand pat and see how the current group performs.

Before they shut down trade talks, the Spurs had been seeking two lightly protected first-round picks in exchange for center Jakob Poeltl, a first-round pick for swingman Josh Richardson, and “positive value” for sharpshooting forward Doug McDermott, Ellis reports.

A source tells Ellis that the Lakers and Spurs discussed a possible swap involving Richardson, McDermott, and Russell Westbrook, but Los Angeles had only been willing to attach a pair of second-round picks to Westbrook, so those talks didn’t gain any momentum. Westbrook would have been waived or bought out if the Spurs acquired him, Ellis adds.

Here’s more on the Spurs from Ellis:

  • A Western Conference scout who spoke to Ellis believes the Spurs will remain quiet on the trade market this season and wait until next summer to consider any more major moves. “With that (Primo) mess, the Spurs are going to try to stay competitive,” the scout said. “There’s no way they risk looking even more dysfunctional than they already look over there.”
  • According to Ellis, the Spurs have zero interest in trading Tre Jones, who has taken over as the team’s starting point guard after Dejounte Murray was dealt to Atlanta. Spurs insiders say Jones is a “natural leader and an effective communicator,” Ellis writes.
  • Spurs general manager Brian Wright has come under fire after a lawsuit filed by one of Primo’s accusers painted him as slow to respond to her allegations when they were reported to him. However, a source close to the Spurs tells Ellis that Wright isn’t in danger of being fired and insisted that the Primo situation was “handled with great care and concern.”

Lakers Notes: Trades, Ham, Roster, Davis, James

Are the Lakers holding out for a big move? Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated said on “The Crossover NBA Show” that they’re hoping for a “bigger piece to come loose” in a deal involving Russell Westbrook and their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks (hat tip to Peter Dewey of LakersDaily.com). Beck didn’t reveal the specific player that the front office may be targeting but says it’s not Kyrie Irving or the Pacers’ package of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • First-year coach Darvin Ham says there’s not much the front office can do in terms of trades or a free agent signing because of financial constraints and the fact they’ve already used the mid-level exception, (Twitter video link). “Were a tax offender, right? Just can’t go out and start spending money everywhere to build a team,” Ham said. “We have three first-ballot Hall of Famers that a chunk of our budget is being spent on and there’s only so much left.”
  • The Lakers’ roster shortcomings are inescapable, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes. They own the worst offense rating in the league and their defense has regressed in recent games. Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown are the only newcomers who have made a positive impact, according to Goon, while free agent additions Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder haven’t played due to injury.
  • Many people around the league are enjoying the Lakers’ front office’s struggles and one executive interviewed by Heavy.com’s Steve Bulpett declared “there’s no more championships” on the horizon. “Look where they are now and tell me when the hell they’re going to have a chance to compete for a championship again,” the executive said.
  • Anthony Davis (lower back tightness) and LeBron James (left foot soreness) are listed as probable for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets.

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Westbrook, M. Brown, Wall

The Warriors‘ road trip, which began last Saturday in Charlotte, has been a disaster so far. Golden State has dropped consecutive road games to the Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Magic and is now just 3-6 on the season. Recognizing that something needs to be done to jump-start the defending champions, head coach Steve Kerr said after Thursday’s loss in Orlando that rotation changes are likely coming, according to ESPN’s Kendra Andrews.

“We’ve had nine games now, so we’ve had a decent look at combinations. It’s time to try something different,” Kerr said. “Everybody’s gonna get a chance to play. We’ve got guys who are dying to get on the floor, and we’ve got to find combinations that play. We will look at that as a staff.”

As Andrews points out, the Warriors’ starters haven’t been a problem so far this season — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney have outscored opponents by 60 points during their time on the floor, the best point differential of any five-man group in the NBA. However, things have generally gone downhill when the starters begin to check out of the game.

Kerr and the Warriors will get an opportunity to try to figure things out without their stars available on Friday. As Anthony Slater of The Athletic (Twitter links) relays, the team is resting Curry (right elbow soreness), Thompson (Achilles injury management), Wiggins (left foot soreness), and Green (lower back injury management) on the second night of a back-to-back.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench has “undeniably unlocked” the best version of the former MVP, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, who argues that the move could even change the course of the Lakers’ season. As Buha tweets, coach Darvin Ham said after Wednesday’s win that one of his goals is to get Westbrook into the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year, which signals that he doesn’t plan to move the point guard back into the starting five anytime soon.
  • Clippers two-way center Moses Brown had his best game of the season in Wednesday’s win in Houston, racking up 13 points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes. However, an increased role for Brown may not be a long-term solution to the second unit’s struggles, since head coach Tyronn Lue wants to get more production out of the team’s small, center-less lineups, writes Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times.
  • Although John Wall is considered one of the Clippers‘ veteran leaders, his situation is different than it was in Houston, when he was a mentor to a very young roster, says Law Murray of The Athletic. “We have so many veteran guys here, so I don’t think they need no mentoring,” Wall said, adding that he’s still willing to help out young players like Brown, Brandon Boston Jr., and Moussa Diabate if they have questions for him.

Heat Notes: Spoelstra, Herro, Westbrook, Strus

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes the team will soon solve its offensive issues after losing five of its first seven games, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes. The fact that they play six of the next seven games at home should help the Heat fix their problems.

We’re closer than we are further away from it,” Spoelstra said. “But when you add losses to it, sometimes it can feel like you’re far away. But we’re not that far away.”

We have more on the Heat:

  • The issue regarding Tyler Herro is not whether he’s worthy of a starting role but rather if he’s better off as a sixth man, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel opines. What the Heat have gotten so far from Herro is a player still finding his way in that role. Herro is averaging 19.9 points and 2.9 assists in seven starts, compared to 20.7 points and 4.0 assists last season while playing the same number of minutes.
  • Trading Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson to the Lakers for Russell Westbrook wouldn’t make any sense, given that the franchise is always focused on going deep in the playoffs, Winderman writes in a separate story. While Westbrook’s $47MM contract would come off the books next summer, that would only ease luxury tax concerns rather than opening up significant cap space.
  • Max Strus is headed for free agency next offseason and he’ll get a huge bump in salary wherever he winds up. A mid-level taxpayer deal is a likely scenario, according to an executive interviewed by Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney. Strus says he’s not sweating the details. “If you get caught up in that stuff, it affects your play so I try not to think about it. I just do my best and put myself in a position for good things to happen,” he said.