From the beginning, the decision to trade for Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2021 was seen as a risky one. However, very few could have predicted just how ugly things would get within the Los Angeles Lakers organization.
Behind Westbrook’s struggles and all-around poor roster construction, the Lakers are barely clinging on to a Play-In Tournament spot in the Western Conference. Westbrook was nearly traded to the Houston Rockets for John Wall, with L.A. almost giving up a first-round pick to do so.
It’s safe to say that very little has gone right between Westbrook and the Lakers. So it makes some sense that Westbrook — like the Lakers — could be looking to part ways this offseason, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:
In any case, there is mutual interest in finding Westbrook a new home this summer, sources said.
The Lakers’ trade deadline discussions with the Houston Rockets for a potential Russell Westbrook-John Wall swap didn’t generate significant traction, sources said, as the Lakers were resistant to including their 2027 first-round pick in any deal to offload Westbrook’s salary. League observers have pointed to this offseason as a greater opportunity for the Lakers to shed Westbrook’s contract, when they will be eligible to move their 2029 first-round pick.
But if the Lakers weren’t willing to part with one draft selection with Houston, one team strategist told B/R it would require two first-round picks for his front office to take back Westbrook’s deal. Other team personnel have optimism Westbrook will become more movable once his contract becomes an expiring contract. Maybe there will be an opportunity to offload Westbrook at the cost of that 2027 first-rounder, when the Lakers would still have the 2029 pick at their disposal heading into the season.
Los Angeles’ most realistic option may ultimately be stretching Westbrook’s $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season. The Lakers have already shown a willingness to stretch Luol Deng’s contract, which finally slips off Los Angeles’ books this year, although that came under Mitch Kupchak’s stewardship. Stretching Westbrook, according to the strategist, would drop the Lakers to merely $2.5 million above the salary cap, which would allow them to sign a rotation piece to the non-taxpayer mid-level, and another player to the bi-annual exception.
“You’ll at least be able to patch something together,” said another cap analyst. “It might actually be their best move and puts some pieces around LeBron.
Reportedly, the Lakers are faced with a number of paths to unload Westbrook’s $47 million salary in 2022-23, and it’s just a matter of which one they deem most palatable.
If the Lakers are forced to use both the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, it could hamstring their future flexibility even more. However, it could also net them a reasonable return given the value of two distant first-round picks that would be after LeBron James’ career presumably ends.
They could also attempt to use one first or multiple seconds to dump Westbrook for nothing, then turn around and use those firsts for players of significant value. Or they could use the dreaded waive-and-stretch provision, something that continues to haunt the Lakers with regard to Luol Deng’s $5 million cap hit this season.
None of the options to get rid of Westbrook are necessarily exciting. However, if Westbrook is also looking to find a new home, perhaps he would give some extra money back in a buyout, although that is more unlikely.
Pelinka’s future with L.A. uncertain
Westbrook is not the only one within the Lakers organization who could be on the way out this summer. Reportedly, league sources question Rob Pelinka’s job security after an ugly offseason. While a Pelinka-Lakers divorce appears less likely for the moment, it is something L.A. could be considering as they find their best path forward.
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!