The Lakers’ decision to trade for Russell Westbrook is a move that came at a big risk not just for the immediate future, but for multiple years moving forward. The worries of trying to figure out how to fix the current Lakers roster have overshadowed the fact that this will likely be a problem the team will have to address next season as well.
While Westbrook will be an expiring contract this upcoming offseason, his deal will still likely be seen as an albatross by many teams, and could be very, very difficult to move. Because of that, there’s a very real chance he remains on the Lakers next season.
On Tuesday, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN appeared on the “Brian Windhorst & the Hoop Collective” podcast and said the message she’s heard is that the core of the Lakers roster will be back again next season.
“That’s some of the phrasing I’ve heard. ‘Let’s not make a change to make a change. Let’s make a change when we know it’s going to make us a lot better.’ And I’ve even heard the phrasing ‘This is probably going to be the roster next year, too.’
“Now, obviously, the minimum contract guys will change, but I think this is what they’ve got. There’s was a couple of weird signals I’ve seen since that. I don’t think LeBron’s been in a situation where he just gets told “No” flat out very often. Even Dan Gilbert eventually kind of bent.”
With another year left on his deal and his play declining at a rapid rate, the concerns about Westbrook extend beyond this season. The Lakers will have the same sort of restrictions on how they can build out their roster next season, some imposed by the league and some imposed by themselves, and are going to have the same type of struggles.
Perhaps they can find a buyer on his deal — say Oklahoma City — who would allow them to straight salary dump him, but the team likely isn’t getting any sort of value back on that. The team wasn’t willing to attach draft compensation to get off his contract for little-to-no on-court upgrade — i.e. John Wall — at the deadline, so we have little reason to believe they’d do so this summer.
Which means the Lakers likely are going to be facing the predicament of how to incorporate Westbrook alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the foreseeable future. A new coach is possible but, again, barring a drastic change, many of the same problems will exist.
The nature of signing players on veteran’s minimum contracts is one that the players are often betting on themselves in hopes of an improved deal in the future. That means a player like Malik Monk likely isn't going to be available for the minimum, and the Lakers are going to have to gamble more on those deals again.
It’s not a pretty picture for the Lakers next season, but it’s a situation entirely of their own doing. They have no one to blame but themselves. In trading for Westbrook, the Lakers made a multi-year gamble. That it has turned so sour so quickly is the worst-case scenario playing out, and it’s going to leave the Lakers in quite the predicament moving into the summer and next season.