In the little more than a week since the end of the Lakers season ended, it’s become abundantly clear that there will be potential trades out there for the team to shed Russell Westbrook’s contract and gain back impactful players in return.
But what’s also becoming evident is that just because a situation exists doesn’t mean it’ll be the right one for either the Lakers or the other side. The Hornets and Pacers both have emerged as the early favorites and likeliest teams to make a deal for Westbrook, but there are still lots of hurdles to be cleared.
And those are the subjects of today’s reports and rumors.
Gordon Hayward causing pause for Lakers
The entirety of Charlotte’s trade package for Westbrook would center on Gordon Hayward and his smaller, but still not ideal contract. There’s no real way to make a trade work with the Hornets without including Hayward.
And that makes the Lakers being uneasy about him noteworthy. Longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein first reported their wariness on Sunday before further clarifying it on Monday in his latest Spotify Live session.
“I think trading him (Russell Westbrook) is going to be a lot harder than it sounds. They’re obviously trying. The talk has already started. I’ve reported already two stories about Charlotte, which I keep hearing other teams regard Charlotte as a team to watch because it is pretty known that the Hornets are going to have to shed some salary. They’ve got to extend Miles Bridges. They might want to extend PJ Washington. They’re definitely going to want to extend LaMelo Ball when it’s his turn. There’s this thought that the Hornets have to get off long-term money.
“I just reported yesterday that Gordon Haward, while his salary is a natural fit there (in a Westbrook trade), and why talent-wise you could say, you know what, it would be pretty interesting to see Gordon Hayward with LeBron and AD, I’ve been told that the Lakers are going to be mindful of injury histories here given how much time LeBron has missed and AD has missed the last couple seasons. It’s a situation where I’m getting the vibe, at least at this early juncture, that the Lakers wouldn’t do a trade where Gordon Hayward was the headliner.
“Now would Charlotte be willing to give up Terry Rozier? Terry Rozier has really played well, they’ve extended him, I think they’re happy with Terry Rozier. But again, Charlotte is a small-market team, they’re not just going to give everybody an extension. Somehow, some way they’re going to have to move long-term money out. Let’s face it: Hayward only has two more years left, it’s not like he is under contract as long as Rozier. So will there be some dialogue on a trade headlined around Rozier and Westbrook? Again, I think Hornets fans are looking at this as ‘why on earth would we want Westbrook? We have LaMelo Ball.’ The Hornets wouldn’t be interested in this to give Russell Westbrook the ball. I don’t even know if they would keep Russell Westbrook or just try to buy him out.”
It’s not a complete full-stop on trade discussions because of Hayward’s injury history, but it could change how the trade is configured. Perhaps the Lakers don’t have to attach anything to Westbrook like a draft pick or Talen Horton-Tucker. Or perhaps, as Stein noted, the Lakers are able to pry someone like Rozer — a very capable player — from the Hornets to take on Hayward’s contract.
But it’s a reminder that just because it makes sense for the Lakers and Hornets to engage in a Westbrook-Hayward swap, it doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for them to ultimately agree on what it will look like.
Pacers reluctance to tank
When looking at Indiana, the desire for them to trade for Westbrook is to shed a LOT of future salary, but also a lot of talent. Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield are on the hook for upwards of $140 million but also are more than capable role players on a contending team.
It creates a calculus for the Pacers to weigh. On one hand, they can shed roughly $100 million in salary in an instant. On the other hand, it'll come at the cost of a lot of talent and wins, something the franchise may not be game for, according to James Boyd of the Indy Star (emphasis mine).
Now I know some of you may be thinking, “Well, Indiana could always buy out Westbrook and have a bunch of cap space in the summer of 2023,” but to me that means the Pacers would most likely have to commit to another underwhelming season because they’d be spending $40-plus million on a player who isn’t suiting up for them.
Plus, from everything I’ve heard since Haliburton was acquired, Indiana, which went 25-57 this season, isn’t interested in bottoming out for a second consecutive campaign. So whatever moves the team explores, even trades involving Hield and Brogdon, none of them should involve Westbrook.
It’s not shocking that the Pacers wouldn’t be interested in tanking. The team ranked 28th in total home attendance this season and last in average attendance. The average capacity of their home games is 80.1%, which is third-worst again.
In short, the franchise can’t really afford to tank. Maybe it means the team would be more interested in Talen Horton-Tucker, who can help them win now, instead of future draft picks. Maybe it means a three-team trade between the Lakers, Pacers and Hornets. Again, it doesn’t rule out the possibility, it just will require the Lakers to get a bit more creative, and means a deal is far from a sure thing.