Given that the Los Angeles Lakers recently gave their embattled head coach permission to bench Russell Westbrook down the stretch of games, it’s become pretty clear that the nine-time All-Star’s homecoming hasn’t gone how any of the involved parties had hoped.
Does that mean that the organization would consider moving on from Westbrook? Well, not exactly, but mainly because they were already mulling that over before this recent, particularly brutal stretch of play from their starting point guard. Unfortunately for them, no one was really interested in taking on the two years and more than $90 million owed to Westbrook.
Or, at least, no one was, until now.
Because, according to the latest Substack column from Hall of Fame NBA insider Marc Stein, the Rockets have emerged as a potential destination for Westbrook, if the Lakers were willing to take on the equally onerous contract of John Wall and compensate the Rockets with draft picks:
I, like many around the league, was previously under the impression that the Rockets would have less than zero interest in a Westbrook reunion after Houston traded Westbrook to Washington for John Wall in December 2020 shortly before the start of last season.
I’ve since learned that the Rockets — while indeed holding no interest in having Westbrook play for them again — actually would be amenable to another Westbrook-for-Wall swap if the Lakers incentivized the trade with sufficient draft compensation.
What would “sufficient draft compensation” look like for the Rockets? According to Stein, the price would be the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick:
Yet sources say that the Lakers could convince Houston to take Westbrook back for Wall if they attached their 2027 first-round draft pick to the deal. The Lakers could naturally try to offer multiple second-round picks instead, but L.A.’s 2027 first-rounder is the piece rival teams naturally covet.
Now, it’s worth noting that Stein writes that he still sees this trade as “not a scenario likely to materialize” before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, and honestly, that sounds about right, from a logical perspective. Because this makes very little-to-no basketball sense on a surface level, unless the Lakers have simply just decided that the mere subtraction of Westbrook will make them a title contender.
For one thing, Wall has not played NBA basketball in nearly a year. The Rockets sat him down the stretch last year so they could tank, and have had him sit out all season so far because they want more minutes for their young guards, and Wall didn’t want to come off the bench. So they’ve just been at an impasse, paying Wall to not play.
But Wall has by all accounts been working out, and as a Klutch Sports client, the Lakers surely have as good of intel on where he’s at physically as any team in the league does. But OK, let’s allow for the hypothetical that Wall has stayed ready, and could hit the ground running for the Lakers. From a basketball perspective... would he really be that much of an upgrade on Westbrook? To be worth attaching a first-round pick to acquire?
Because for all the crowing about Westbrook’s terrible fit and inability to make a shot, Wall is a career 32.3% 3-point shooter. That is barely better than Westbrook (30.5% for his career, 30.4% this season). The floor would likely be just as clogged, because it’s not like defenses are staying with Wall to ignore James’ (or Anthony Davis’) drives to the paint. Many of the offensive complaints people are making about Westbrook would also apply to Wall.
But maybe that’s an oversimplification of the “fit” dilemma. Wall and Westbrook are different players, to be sure. And maybe Wall, away from the NBA for over a year, would be more willing or able to embrace some of the little things Westbrook hasn’t. But Westbrook has tried to make this work, and it’s not like he’s been a bad soldier, so this would seem to be a case where the Lakers are giving up their best trade asset for a player that hasn’t been able to stay healthy for years, has just as bad (or worse) of a contract, and might only be a marginally better fit for this team if he can even stay on the court.
In short, I can understand why the Rockets would do this, but I’m not really sure I see the value for the Lakers.
That’s probably why Stein sees it as unlikely to happen, even if it’s still notable that at least one team is willing to give the Lakers an out — maybe even this offseason — if they reach a point where they decide they just need to be rid of Westbrook. I just can’t see them being there yet, and this move also simply doesn’t seem to really benefit anyone but Klutch (in that they could find a place that would let Wall play, and get another client on the Lakers to replace the possibly traded at the deadline Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker) and the Rockets (they get a first-round pick). For the Lakers, though, it’s hard to see a ton of logic. So I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting this to happen.
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