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NBA training camps are opening next month, and Russell Westbrook is still on the Los Angeles Lakers.
New head coach Darvin Ham has said all the right things about how he’ll get the most out of Westbrook, the Lakers’ stars have committed to making it work and a year’s experience together should theoretically lead to better results, right?
No matter what people in and around the organization may say, there’s simply no way the Lakers can begin the 2022-23 season with the 33-year-old on the roster.
Moving Westbrook and his expiring $47.1 million contract should be doable, even if it means parting with future first-round picks and/or including some of the young talent on the roster.
These Lakers aren’t close to competing for a title, as this roster needs more shooting, defense and depth around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The good news? There are a handful of teams out there that could use a financial reset, one Westbrook’s massive expiring salary would provide. Getting draft compensation back would also help improve future flexibility for those franchises.
All of these trades would involve the Lakers giving up at least one future first-round pick, something the franchise has been extremely hesitant to do. With James set to turn 38 in December and able to leave as a free agent next summer, a message has to be sent that Los Angeles will forever do what it takes to win as long as he’s still on the roster.
Each of the following trades was designed with the expectation that the franchise receiving Westbrook would rather buy him out or potentially flip him in another trade than use him on the court in 2022-23. Thus, the primary goal of these trades is to improve each team’s outlook for 2023-24 and beyond.
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SF Gordon Hayward, C Mason Plumlee
Charlotte Hornets Receive: PG Russell Westbrook, 2027 first-round pick (unprotected), 2023 second-round pick
Why the Hornets Say Yes
Hayward just hasn’t been able to stay healthy since arriving in Charlotte, playing in 44 and 49 games in each of his two seasons.
He’s still owed $61.6 million over the next two years, and swapping Hayward and Plumlee for Westbrook would open up an additional $31.5 million in cap space next offseason while LaMelo Ball is still on his rookie deal.
Plumlee is on an expiring contract and almost certainly won’t be re-signed after the Hornets selected centers (Mark Williams and Kai Jones) in the first round each of the past two drafts.
Why the Lakers Say Yes
Hayward is a perfect fit on the wing for the Lakers, as he can play on or off the ball and be a secondary playmaker next to LeBron James. He’s also made 40.2 percent of his three-pointers the past two seasons.
The injury concerns are real, which is why the Lakers only sacrifice one of their future firsts here. With two years left on his contract, Los Angeles should be able to shed his salary next season if necessary.
Plumlee is a solid starter who will help keep Anthony Davis at power forward and is an extremely underrated passer who should be able to find James on cuts to the basket a few times a game.
New-Look Lakers Lineup: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Gordon Hayward, SF LeBron James, PF Anthony Davis, C Mason Plumlee
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SG Tim Hardaway Jr., PF Davis Bertans, SF Reggie Bullock
Dallas Mavericks Receive: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Austin Reaves, 2027 and 2029 first-round picks (unprotected)
Why the Mavs Say Yes
The Mavericks, even after letting Jalen Brunson walk for nothing this offseason, are $14.6 million over the luxury-tax line. Their bloated cap sheet is filled with role players who are being paid above their actual worth, not to mention newly acquired big man Christian Wood, who will need a new contract next summer.
Pair Dallas’ tight financial situation and loss of Brunson with teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets presumably getting back to full health, and the Mavs—the No. 4 seed and a conference finalist last season—could be in danger of slipping down the Western Conference standings.
Losing Hardaway, Bertans and Bullock may hurt the Mavs’ chances at competing for a title in 2023, but it also opens up $45.4 million in cap space next summer, meaning Dallas would have room to sign a max-level free agent to pair with Doncic .
The Mavs also pick up a future first as trade ammo and get a young player in Reaves to insert into the rotation to help make up for the loss of Hardaway. A core of Doncic, Wood, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, JaVale McGee, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell is still good and now has a far better long-term outlook.
Swapping three players for two (and then presumably buying out Westbrook) would open up an additional pair of roster spots to add free agents or be aggressive in the buyout market later in the season.
Why the Lakers Say Yes
This is a nice influx of talent for the Lakers, even if Bertans’ contract (three years, $49 million with an early termination option) is pretty brutal.
Hardaway is a 6’5″ shooting guard who averaged 15.7 points and shot 38.1 percent from three over his past three seasons. Bullock is the perfect 3-and-D wing this Lakers team desperately needs, and Bertans can be one of the NBA’s best floor-spacers when healthy.
Giving up Reaves and two first-round picks stings, but these are ideal-fitting pieces for LA to plug in.
New-Look Lakers Lineup: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., SF Reggie Bullock, PF LeBron James, C Anthony Davis
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: C Myles Turner, SG Buddy Hield, PG TJ McConnell
Indiana Pacers Receive: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Austin Reaves, 2027 and 2029 first-round picks (unprotected)
Why the Pacers Say Yes
These two teams have already discussed a similar deal with Turner and Hield headed to Los Angeles, one that was nixed after the Pacers asked for two first-round picks, according to The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz.
If Indiana wants to secure both the 2027 and 2029 first-rounders from Los Angeles and clear some additional cap space, McConnell should be included in the deal as well.
This trade would open up an additional $28 million in cap space for the Pacers next summer and make Daniel Theis the roster’s highest-paid player at just $9.1 million. That’s an incredible amount of financial flexibility for a team that already features some young core pieces and would get a pair of extra first-rounders to use in the future.
Why the Lakers Say Yes
This is probably the best return of overall talent the Lakers could get for Westbrook, even if it means giving up both eligible future firsts.
Hield averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists following his trade to Indiana last season and is a lifetime 39.8 percent shooter from three.
Turner would give Los Angeles the best defensive frontcourt in all of basketball next to Anthony Davis, and his three-point shooting ability keeps everyone spread out on offense.
McConnell is the perfect backup point guard with his passing and defensive ability, someone who can run the offense when LeBron James needs a breather.
New-Look Lakers Lineup: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Buddy Hield, SF LeBron James, PF Anthony Davis, C Myles Turner
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PF Julius Randle, G/F Evan Fournier
New York Knicks Receive: PG Russell Westbrook, 2027 first-round pick (top-5 protected)
Why the Knicks Say Yes
According to NBA insider Marc Stein, the Knicks would “explore scenarios to trade away Julius Randle” if they can acquire Donovan Mitchell in a trade, with Westbrook’s expiring deal looking like a prime option with which to do so.
Why stop there, though?
Fournier is still owed $36.9 million over the next two years with a $19 million team option in 2024-25. If the Knicks were to acquire Mitchell and would presumably start RJ Barrett at small forward, Fournier becomes a pricey backup in New York.
Moving Randle and Fournier for Westbrook would create $44.6 million in cap relief in 2023. If a trade indeed goes down for Mitchell, he would get a chance to recruit another star to New York to join a core with Barrett, Jalen Brunson, Mitchell Robinson and others.
This could also turn into a three-team deal, with the future first from the Lakers used to help the Knicks acquire Mitchell.
Why the Lakers Say Yes
Randle and Fournier are overpaid, but can still be quality starters in the NBA.
Randle is just a year removed from winning Most Improved Player while averaging 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists and shooting 41.1 percent from three, while Fournier (14.1 points on 38.9 percent from three last season) should thrive as a floor-spacer off passes from LeBron James.
Given the amount of money remaining on each of their contracts, the Lakers only sacrifice the 2027 first and get to keep the 2029 pick.
Randle isn’t necessarily the best fit with this roster in his return to LA, but he’s arguably the best player the Lakers can actually get in return for Westbrook.
New-Look Lakers Lineup: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Evan Fournier, SF LeBron James, PF Julius Randle, C Anthony Davis
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Los Angeles Lakers Receive: F Doug McDermott, G/F Josh Richardson
San Antonio Spurs Receive: PG Russell Westbrook, 2027 first-round pick (unprotected), 2023 second-round pick, 2025 second-round pick
Why the Spurs Say Yes
San Antonio is obviously rebuilding following the Dejounte Murray trade. With this deal, it can collect three additional draft picks and increase its chances at projected No. 1 selection Victor Wembanyama.
Swapping Westbrook’s expiring deal for McDermott’s helps create $13.8 million of additional cap space next summer when the Spurs could become big-time buyers in free agency—Keldon Johnson’s contract will be their only guaranteed salary of more than $5.8 million.
San Antonio could include Jakob Poeltl in the deal and ask for the Lakers’ 2029 first-round pick as well.
Why the Lakers Say Yes
This is the best chance for LA to add some premier shooting around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as both McDermott (42.2 percent from three) and Richardson (41.5 percent) shot the lights out last season.
Richardson is also a quality defender who can switch across multiple positions, something the Lakers desperately need.
As an added bonus, the Lakers don’t need to make the money match in this deal since the Spurs have cap space to absorb Westbrook’s salary in this framework. The trade would immediately save Los Angeles $21.1 million, putting them $3.9 million below the luxury tax after paying $45.1 million in penalties last year.
New-Look Lakers Lineup: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Josh Richardson, SF Doug McDermott, PF LeBron James, C Anthony Davis