The second that the Lakers were linked as one of the teams interested in a trade for Ben Simmons in a report on Monday, it was clear that the organization, no matter how much they’d likely deny it publicly, was at least somewhat willing to deal Russell Westbrook. Maybe they weren’t actively looking to move him, but he was the only salary that would realistically allow them to get Simmons in an in-season trade without moving Anthony Davis or LeBron James (which isn’t happening).
And on Tuesday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report explicitly confirmed that speculation in his column on the latest trade intel from around the league, reporting that the Lakers have “held internal discussions” on potentially dealing Westbrook:
The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook simply hasn’t blended as well as Lakers figures hoped, and Los Angeles has held internal discussions on trade scenarios for Russell Westbrook, league sources told B/R. But moving Westbrook and the two years, $91 million remaining on his contract does seem unlikely.
But, as Fischer wrote, while it’s not surprising that the Lakers are at least open to the idea of looking for a theoretical upgrade on their third star — after all, every team wants to get better and looks at most of their options, and the Lakers are no different — an in-season trade involving Westbrook feels highly, highly unlikely for a few reasons.
For one thing, Westbrook is making $44.2 million this season, the most money of any Laker and one of the highest annual salaries in the league. Just purely mathematically, it would be incredibly difficult to trade him in-season while teams have minimum roster size limits and are playing games, and still have to try and match that amount of money with multiple players in a trade. And those teams would have to really, really want Westbrook to be willing to go through such crazy roster gymnastics if they weren’t sending back a player making nearly as much.
It’s just not something that happens very often at midseason, and Fischer ruled out some of the only realistic candidates, money-wise, in his report (emphasis mine):
Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio’s salaries would match Westbrook’s pricey deal, reuniting James with a former championship counterpart. But that structure would have little interest from the Cavaliers’ side and has not yet been discussed by the two teams, sources said. Outside of Love’s large number, there are simply few players aside from John Wall, for whom Westbrook was traded to Washington last summer, who are available for trade and come close to Westbrook’s earnings.
One of those players is Ben Simmons. The Athletic reported Los Angeles’ interest in Simmons on Monday, and Westbrook’s salary, outside of James’ and Davis’, is the only number on the Lakers’ books that can match Simmons’ own lofty deal. Even then, Westbrook is not a player on the Sixers’ list of hopeful returns, league sources told B/R, and conversations with the Lakers never developed very far.
But even outside of this report, and those mathematical concerns, the Lakers trading Westbrook is probably not going to happen for one simple reason that goes beyond all that: It would require them to stab a former local kid — whose Los Angeles homecoming they so openly celebrated, and who LeBron James really wanted — in the back.
Just in terms of how this franchise prefers to be perceived by stars around the league, semi-disrespectfully dumping Westbrook at midseason to a place he doesn’t want to go after he fought so hard to return to this team is not something the Lakers are likely to do unless the return is so good they can’t resist. Especially given that the team has started to look a bit better lately, and their Big 3 of James, Davis and Westbrook have only appeared in 13 games as a trio, and have barely had time to really figure things out.
Maybe the team dumps Westbrook in a few months and makes all of the above dithering and reasoning look dumb, but for now, the main takeaway here is that the Lakers are willing to consider all their options — as they should — but it still feels extremely improbable that Westbrook will be moved at any point before next offseason. Buckle up, because trade rumor madness season is officially upon us, but for now this is all likely more smoke than fire.