It’s not any kind of new revelation to say that the Lakers went all-in by trading for Russell Westbrook. The team traded all of the depth from its 2020-21 team for Westbrook in a move that finally landed the Lakers the third superstar they long coveted.
At the same time, it was a high-risk move that brought in a player with a high level of variance between his ceiling and his floor. If things went well, the Lakers could vault to the top of the list of title contenders, but if things went poorly, then the team was likely going to struggle mightily. Unfortunately, the latter is largely what has happened this season.
The problem with gambling on Westbrook is his albatross of a contract severely limits what a team can do when things don’t work out, as the Lakers are finding out firsthand this season. In Ramona Shelburne’s recent piece for ESPN, the Lakers have quickly come to a not-so-illuminating revelation about the situation surrounding Westbrook:
“It’s not like [Westbrook’s] a tradable player where if it’s not working out you just move on; everybody in the NBA knows that,” one team source said. “So it’s got to work. This is the only option. There is no Plan B for this season.”
The Lakers have tried to explore the trade market for Westbrook but to no avail. They reportedly offered him to the Sixers as part of the discussions for Ben Simmons but were met with a hard no. The only other lifeline presented to the team involves the Rockets’ interest in swapping Westbrook for John Wall, who has not played in a basketball game since April 23, 2021, and even that interest from Houston comes with the caveat of requiring added draft compensation from Los Angeles, something they have very little of.
Effectively, the Lakers are strapped with Westbrook no matter what now. And considering how things have gone of late with his benching to close the game against the Pacers marking a low point of the season, it’s hasn’t been the type of mutually beneficial partnership anyone was hoping for, as Shelburne further outlined in her piece:
But Westbrook is the most polarizing. And because the Lakers traded away virtually all the assets they had to improve the team to acquire the three superstars this team revolves around, this trio is stuck with one another. It’s too expensive to get divorced. That it’s even a conversation now, 47 games into the grandest of experiments, is an indictment itself.
As one Lakers insider said, “There is no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The lone remaining sliver of hope for the Lakers is that the return of Anthony Davis can unlock something that hasn’t been there throughout the year. Davis, Westbrook and LeBron James have hardly played together this season and when they have — like in Tuesday’s win against Brooklyn — there have been some positive results.
But counting on health and the trade deadline to save this team still feels like a long shot, as Westbrook has at times proven more resistant to change than hoped. The ultimate goal is the Lakers having to adapt to the shortcomings of Westbrook, looking to minimize them and, ultimately, trying to win mostly in spite of Westbrook, save for a miraculous turnaround from the former star point guard.
It’s a gloomy outlook on the situation, but Tuesday’s positive performance aside, there have been few reasons this season to see things any other way.
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