As the Los Angeles Lakers get set to begin the 2022-23 NBA season with their preseason opener against the Sacramento Kings, a lot of the discourse surrounding the team remains on what went on off the court this offseason.
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers tried to trade Russell Westbrook this summer, although they were unsuccessful in doing so as he remains on the roster and will be at least to start the season.
The Lakers’ trade talks perhaps got the deepest with the Indiana Pacers, who are in a rebuilding phase and made sense as a destination for Westbrook. In a potential deal, the Lakers would’ve gotten Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, both of which would help with the lack of shooting on the current roster.
The two sides could not come to an agreement on draft compensation though as Shams Charania, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that the Lakers seriously considered sending the Pacers both their 2027 and 2029 unprotected first-round picks all the way up until the night before Media Day before deciding to hold off for now:
On the cusp of training camp, as media day neared and the topic of Westbrook’s uncertain future continued to dominate the conversation around the NBA, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations say the Lakers’ key decision-makers spent several days engaged in deep conversations about the feasibility of a blockbuster trade with Indiana.
Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued.
The Lakers are giving Westbrook a chance to make things right in L.A. under new head coach Darvin Ham. If his play doesn’t improve though then trade talks with the Pacers can be revisited between now and the trade deadline:
While Westbrook wasn’t traded in the summer like so many across the league expected, league sources tell The Athletic that the prospect of him being traded in the coming weeks and months remains real. In a perfect world, Westbrook would find his stride with these Lakers, the team would perform at a high level, wins would follow and the franchise would finally show its short- and long-term potential. But a decision to trade him or not would be based on a multitude of factors – not the least of which are his play and his continued willingness to follow through on the plan set forth by first-year coach Darvin Ham. For this storied franchise that wants so desperately to make the most of LeBron James’ twilight years after he signed an extension in mid-August, this is a crucial choice that could determine whether the Lakers return to title contention anytime soon.
The Lakers and Pacers reportedly discussed a number of different iterations of the trade, even trying to get other teams involved although they weren’t able to find anything that satisfies all parties:
Throughout the summer, the Lakers and Pacers discussed several trade iterations. Some included just Turner, such as a package that would have sent Westbrook and one first-round pick for Turner, sources said. Others included deals centered on just Hield. The Pacers signed Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million maximum offer sheet that was matched by the Suns during the Las Vegas Summer League in July, creating a potential opening for the franchise to swing a deal involving Turner. The Lakers’ initial formal talks with the Pacers came after Summer League, when in the weeks to follow the sides discussed Westbrook, one first-round pick and second-round compensation for both Turner and Hield, sources said.
The Lakers and Pacers also discussed adding a third team, such as the Grizzlies, who could take a 2027 or 2029 first-rounder from the Lakers for two first-rounders of their own to send to Indiana, according to sources. For the Pacers, every conversation with the Lakers led to an ultimate demand: Both of L.A.’s available first-round picks — or no deal.
Rob Pelinka expressed as such on Media Day, stating that the Lakers only have one chance to get a trade right since they only have two first-round picks to offer this decade.
As the season goes on, Westbrook’s $47 million expiring salary may become more appealing to teams that fall out of the playoff race. Pelinka and the Lakers are betting that they can stay in the playoff race until those roster upgrades become available though, which should make for an interesting and awkward first half of the season for Westbrook and the team.