The Lakers have reportedly discussed Russell Westbrook’s trade internally, but that doesn’t make a deal likely
Russell Westbrook was a questionable fit with the Los Angeles Lakers from the time he was acquired before the 2021 NBA Draft, and so far this season those concerns have been somewhat justified in the midst of a start. disappointing 15-13. Rumors of a reshuffle have been inevitable for weeks, and now they’re finally starting to spread. According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Lakers have had internal talks over Westbrook’s trade given his poor fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It comes a day after Athletic’s Shams Charania announced the Lakers were interested in Ben Simmons. Westbrook should be in such a deal for financial purposes.
Of course, considering a transaction and executing one are two very different things. Westbrook owes $ 91 million this season and the next, and there are very few players in all of basketball who could be used to match wages in such a deal. Most of the players who could be in such a rarefied air as superstars that their teams would never want to trade them for Westbrook, who is 33 and appears to be in decline. It’s also worth noting that James and Davis both wanted Westbrook’s trade and might not be happy to see him dealt with even though it’s in the best interests of the team. For these reasons and many more, a deal is extremely unlikely.
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Westbrook has had an eventful season in Los Angeles and he is far from blameless for his team’s struggles. His defensive effort has been disappointing all season, especially joining a team with such a strong defensive culture as the Lakers in recent years. He didn’t grow as much of a cutter as the Lakers probably hoped he would, and despite some early success as a bullet sifter for James, it’s also not a job Westbrook has embraced. All of these problems were predictable. Westbrook has both succeeded and wrestled in the same manner that he has generally succeeded and wrestled throughout his career. In other words, he has basically lived up to expectations, unless the Lakers believe he would magically change as a player in his mid-30s.
This makes Westbrook a somewhat unfair scapegoat for the Lakers. His limitations as a player were apparent from the moment they traded for him, but they still built a roster that made little sense around him. They refused to pay Alex Caruso despite Westbrook’s defensive weaknesses. They took care of ball keepers with their spots at the back of the roster despite Westbrook’s heavy-use style. They tried to get him to play in two big lineups without considering the downsides from a spacing perspective. Even though Westbrook failed with the Lakers, the Lakers failed just as much.
It’s also worth noting that Westbrook has improved dramatically throughout the season. After averaging 19 points with 41.8% shooting in his first 10 games, he has jumped to 22 with 46.8% shooting in his next 13, although a recent meltdown has since lowered his figures. He’s peaking at a career-high 52.9% in Turns 3, and if anything near that number holds, Westbrook might have a way to clear the floor for James and Davis, after all. History suggests that he will improve over time even if his alignment does not.
These are reasons not to trade Westbrook, but the most important is common sense. The Lakers functionally traded five key players to get Westbrook: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell in the deal itself with Caruso and Dennis Schroder as free agents which they chose not to retain at the less in part due to Westbrook’s trade. There’s absolutely no way they can turn Westbrook into five valuable players midway through the season. The idea that they could somehow trade it in and go back to their old defensive-oriented style of play is just fictional. In reality, they would trade Westbrook for an inferior version of last year’s squad that probably wouldn’t be good enough to win this year’s championship. As flawed as Westbrook is, the Lakers are committed to this three-star style. Their only hope of saving the season, barring a very surprising comeback in a possible Westbrook trade, is to put the best possible team around Westbrook himself. He offers something the players the Lakers haven’t given up on, and embracing that is their only way forward as going back is not a realistic option.
The Lakers made their bed when they traded for Westbrook. Now they’re almost certainly going to have to sleep in it. It could mean making a meaningful trade elsewhere on the roster, but in all likelihood Westbrook is going to stick around. For better or worse, there just isn’t a realistic way to trade it for anything that makes the Lakers a better basketball team.