The Lakers, NBA Execs, May have Just Chosen to Run Russell Back

Sep 12, 2022

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LOS ANGELES, California – The Lakers executive office’s first priority heading into the offseason was to part ways with Russell Westbrook. Westbrook’s return to the Los Angeles Lakers seemed unlikely following the team’s catastrophic 2021–22 season, which culminated with him blaming everyone but himself in his exit interview. The team finished 11th, behind a team that was selling at the trade deadline.

The league anticipates that the Lakers won’t like any prospective transactions involving Russell Westbrook and will begin the season with their current point guard.

Yet the general belief across the country is that it will indeed happen less than three weeks before the start of training camp. Possibly the Lakers have changed their stance on Westbrook’s remarks after giving them time to think about them or they now think injuries were the real cause of last season’s failure. Perhaps the Lakers were unrealistic in what they were ready to offer to deal away one of the league’s most divisive players, or the trade demands of other clubs were too onerous. 

Whatever the case, most NBA observers now anticipate Westbrook to start the regular season with the Lakers.

Whatever the case, most NBA observers now anticipate Westbrook to start the regular season with the Lakers. 

In an interesting turn, the Lakers apparently don’t want to give up even one first place. 

L.A.’s refusal to include two first-round picks in a trade has been the main obstacle to any Westbrook deal for the majority of the offseason, despite reportedly promising LeBron James when he signed an extension that they would — but only if doing so significantly improved the team’s chances of winning the championship.

It’s a practical escape for the Lakers. Theoretically, they are safeguarding their future because they were so distant from title contention a year ago that one deal probably wouldn’t change that equation. LeBron’s remaining years are being wasted, and the front staff is counting on the fan base to accept another squad that will, at best, compete for a play-in position. 

In terms of future picks, the team’s entrenchment appears to have gotten stronger recently. According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, the Lakers might not even be prepared to give up one future in order to get rid of Russ.

It is bold in and of itself for the Lakers to presume that one first-round choice will suffice. It has long been acknowledged that there would be a cost associated with leaving Westbrook’s contract as well as a cost associated with adding new players. If the Lakers won’t give up even one future pick, it’s understandable why they haven’t been able to reach an agreement.

When Pincus asks, “So what’s the plan?,” he is dead on. Given these limitations for a prospective deal, the Lakers’ only option moving forward is to commit to keeping Westbrook. Nobody knows why they made this decision, especially in light of how objectively awful the basketball product was the previous season. 

Was there any discussion of a deal between the Lakers and the Knicks or Jazz? This is the big question blaring on the issue. 

There was a rumor that the Lakers may facilitate a trade between New York and Utah before the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell, and the New York Knicks were still the presumed destination for the former Jazz All-Star. NBA insider Marc Stein highlighted that Westbrook’s sizable expiring deal along with the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 firsts would assist smooth a trade. Pincus outlined the details of the Lakers’ participation in more detail, describing how they could acquire useful role players by assisting in the salary parity.

It would have been impossible for the Lakers to participate in such a transaction without giving up at least one future first-round choice and possibly two. That arrangement doesn’t seem to suit the team’s proclaimed ethos.

It follows logically that the Lakers have decided to keep Westbrook rather than taking part in a trade that could have brought them multiple wing-like role players in Bojan Bogdanovi, Cam Reddish, and Evan Fournier. That was the conclusion that ESPN’s Windhorst also came to.

There is a more than 50% probability that Westbrook will be a Laker to start training camp, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. That does not rule out the potential of a Westbrook trade by the Lakers during the current campaign. But if the team has reached that point, it’s most likely because the Lakers are having trouble, which would reduce their bargaining power in a prospective trade. If they can’t complete such a trade now, it’s difficult to picture the Lakers finding a deal that makes them contenders during the regular season — with the difficulties of contract matching, from a weakened position.

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