At the NBA trade deadline in February, the Lakers stood pat on moving Russell Westbrook to Houston — or anywhere else — for John Wall in a deal that was rumored to have multiple variations to it. The basis of it centered on the unwanted contracts of Westbrook and Wall for their respective teams, but the added compensation from either side could not be agreed upon, and the Lakers ultimately balked at pulling the trigger.
But given the nature of the contracts of both players, it’s a trade that will certainly be talked about in the coming weeks and months heading into the offseason. The two have been traded for each other once already, after all. Neither side, though, seems too interested in revisiting matters as the challenges of trading Westbrook continue to show themselves as the summer months near.
Let’s take a look at the reports and headlines.
Neither the Lakers nor Rockets want John Wall or Russell Westbrook
The biggest hang-up in a Westbrook-Wall trade is that neither player is all that desirable to either team. The Rockets are about as likely to buy out Wall as they are to trade him, while the Lakers are looking for a player that can have an impact if they move Westbrook, not someone on the brink of being bought out.
As Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report writes, that is turning the two teams off from a potential deal this offseason.
That impasse prompted the Rockets to inquire about a trade deadline swap for Russell Westbrook, with the belief that Westbrook would be more amenable to negotiating a buyout. But those February conversations between Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers never gained serious traction, sources told B/R. The Rockets sought a future Lakers first-rounder, which was a non-starter for L.A.’s front office. It still seems unlikely that such a deal framework will ever cross the finish line.
From conversations with league figures familiar with those talks, neither front office appears to truly value the opposing player. And if the 31-year-old Wall picks up his $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 as expected, it could be even more challenging for Houston to shed him than for the Lakers to move Westbrook’s expiring contract.
If the Rockets are to stand pat and buy out Wall, he isn’t expected to even join the Lakers in that scenario, either, as Fischer also notes.
If the Rockets are unable to find a trade for Wall before the June 23 NBA draft, all signs now point to Houston and Wall’s representation revisiting buyout talks prior to free agency in July. In that event, Wall would become an unrestricted free agent, and the Clippers, along with the Miami Heat, have been mentioned by league sources as strong potential landing spots for him.
It all adds up to Wall playing for the Lakers very unlikely this upcoming season, even if it’ll be challenging for the Lakers to deal Westbrook because...
The Rockets and Lakers aren’t the only teams that don’t want Russ, either
The Lakers must move on from Westbrook this summer after how terribly his season went in Los Angeles, but it’s going to be tough. Charlotte and Indiana remain the two most mentioned destinations because teams aren’t lining up to take on Westbrook’s bloated contract.
As Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reports, league executives view Westbrook as a “negative asset” right now.
I asked a few NBA executives what they thought of Westbrook’s trade value now.
One NBA executive said, “Westbrook will still be viewed as a negative asset by most teams, but some teams might be willing to take on one bad year in order to shed three years of future money.”
Another NBA executive said, “Right now, his trade value is extremely negative. All it takes, however, is one team to be desperate to add talent and have bad contracts to make it happen. The reality is that 95 percent of teams view that as a terrible contract right now. They’re not doing that unless they’re dumping a bunch of stuff.”
The third executive said he wouldn’t trade for Westbrook at all.
Now, while Westbrook is an overall negative asset, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other negative assets the two could swap him out for. Gordon Hayward of the Hornets, for example, is also likely viewed as a negative asset. So this view doesn’t rule out a Westbrook trade, but it does severely limit the available pool of them.
Another report that Malik Monk is due for a raise in free agency
On top of figuring out the Westbrook trade puzzle, the Lakers are also going to have to thread a needle if they hope to retain Malik Monk in free agency.
The pros of having a veteran’s minimum player like Monk outperform his contract is the unexpected boost they give to a team during the season, but the negative is that they will immediately be due a pay raise the following summer, which appears to be the case for Monk this summer, as Scotto reports, too.
I spoke to four NBA executives who projected Malik Monk to earn an average annual salary somewhere between the taxpayer and non-taxpayer mid-level exception as of now. That would project to be somewhere between roughly the $6-10 million annual range.
One executive specifically said, “Malik had a good year. I was surprised he was a minimum guy last year. I thought he should’ve been worth more than that. If you put Monk on a good team, his scoring and shooting is really important.”
This isn’t the first time that range has been mentioned for Monk’s upcoming contract. In early April, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report had a similar report, indicating Monk’s upcoming deal would be between $5-10 million annually.
The only realistic way the Lakers could offer a competitive contract, then, would be finding a Westbrook deal that sheds a good amount of money off their salary cap and opens up exceptions for them to use — like the non-taxpayer version of the mid-level exception, worth approximately $10 million — to use on Monk.
In short, given the team’s needs elsewhere and their financial limitations, it’s going to be a difficult ask to keep Monk, meaning he could be one-and-done after a very successful stint in the purple and gold.
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