Lakers Rumors: Hornets Could Emerge As Trade Suitor For Russell Westbrook
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The marriage between Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers could end after just one year, but the eventual divorce would be a complicated affair.

Westbrook recently declared he would like to run it back with the Lakers in 2022-23, although many reports have claimed both sides would rather look for an opportunity to part ways. However, finding a new home for the 2017 NBA MVP won’t be easy because of his $47 million player option for the next season, which the guard is all but certain to pick up.

The Lakers could find a potential suitor for Westbrook and his expiring contract. However, their failure to offload the 33-year-old before the February trade deadline showed the market for Westbrook isn’t big — and that even if they find a trade partner, L.A. will likely have to take on lots of long-term money to seal the deal.

Now, NBA insider Marc Stein reports that would be the case if the Lakers were to do business with the Charlotte Hornets, who might be looking to shop Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier in the summer:

All-Star guard LaMelo Ball is firmly ensconced as the Hornets’ face of the franchise and on-the-ball star, but one scenario making the rounds is a belief that the Hornets could emerge with Westbrook interest in the name of creating some financial flexibility.

Gordon Hayward has two seasons left on a four-year, $120 million contract and has appeared in only 49 of Charlotte’s 79 games this season. Terry Rozier has performed well this season, with an above-average PER of 17.36, but next season is Year 1 of a four-year, $97 million extension.

With the Hornets facing the onrushing expense of signing Miles Bridges to a lucrative contract extension this offseason, followed by the eventual prospect of a max extension for Ball, combining one of their long-term deals with the final season on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s two-year, $24.5 million pact, as an example, could function as a workable trade framework. Any team trading for Westbrook has to send out roughly $38 million in salary.

While Hornets owner Michael Jordan has long ranked as a Westbrook admirer, it’s not yet clear if that would give such a trade concept more life. The scenario has nonetheless been mentioned by multiple rival teams in recent weeks and, if nothing else, illustrates the likelihood that the Lakers would largely be limited to trades in which they’re the team taking on more long-term money if they want to move off Westbrook immediately.

L.A.’s other option is to stretch Westbrook’s contract and then waive the player, but that would curb the franchise’s financial flexibility to an even greater extent that the infamous Luol Deng salary, which is finally coming off the books this summer.

Westbrook ‘blessed’ to have spent 2021-22 with Lakers

Despite experiencing heavy criticism and even bullying during a highly disappointing season, Westbrook said he can recognize some positives that came out of his debut year with the Lakers.

“Honestly, me personally, it’s a situation that I was just blessed to be able to be in,” he said. “I learned a lot of different things about myself and I was able to stay real faithful and true to what I believe in regardless of what was ever thrown our way and continued to just fight through it regardless of the results.”

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