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Report: Lakers still would like to trade Russell Westbrook, but not if they have to attach picks

The Lakers would like to trade Russell Westbrook... but apparently not all that badly.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Even with Russell Westbrook officially opting into the final, $47 million year of his current contract, it sounds like the Los Angeles Lakers have not yet fully resigned themselves to the idea that he’ll be on their roster next season. But they’re probably as close as they’ve ever been to fully accepting that depressing reality.

In the wake of Westbrook’s opt-in on Tuesday, Jovan Buha of The Athletic reports that “though a Westbrook trade is still possible, the Lakers are currently planning on beginning next season with him on the roster.”

Buha writes that there is a scenario that could alter that calculus — and that the Lakers, in a vacuum, would still like to trade Westbrook — but it just doesn’t sound like his exodus is a particularly likely outcome at this point (emphasis mine):

That could change if the Lakers find a team willing to take on Westbrook’s expiring contract without also demanding a future first-round pick (2027 or 2029), which hasn’t been the case thus far. The Lakers would still prefer to trade Westbrook, given the concerns surrounding his declining play, his fit with James and Davis and his willingness to adapt to the team’s desired role for him.

The Lakers would soften their stance for the right return (think Kyrie Irving, multiple starting-level players, or another disgruntled star). But the front office has been telling those around the team for weeks that Westbrook will be a Laker at the start of training camp.

There is quite a bit to unpack there, and Jovan’s story is worth a read in its entirety, but let’s get into this report, line-by-line.

That could change if the Lakers find a team willing to take on Westbrook’s expiring contract without also demanding a future first-round pick (2027 or 2029), which hasn’t been the case thus far.

I’m gonna go ahead and take a wild guess that will probably continue to be the case.

The Lakers would still prefer to trade Westbrook, given the concerns surrounding his declining play, his fit with James and Davis and his willingness to adapt to the team’s desired role for him.

I mean, that makes sense. However, as noted above...

The Lakers would soften their stance for the right return (think Kyrie Irving, multiple starting-level players, or another disgruntled star). But the front office has been telling those around the team for weeks that Westbrook will be a Laker at the start of training camp.

So to recap, it sounds like the Lakers want to trade Westbrook, but not so badly that they’d be willing to actually attach anything of value to entice another team to take him. So really, not very badly at all. It would be like walking into a restaurant, announcing you wanted some food but did not want to pay for it, and then just grabbing a chair and staring at the cashier, hoping they’d bring you a meal. Sure, maybe they’ll feel bad and bring you over an order they messed up, but more than likely they’re just gonna let you sit and starve.

And because most NBA teams are not in the habit of taking on $47 million contracts — no, not even expiring ones — just as a favor without an asset attached, the Lakers and Russ are probably stuck together, victims of their own best interests, but a far cry from the happy homecoming both sides thought they were signing up for.

Westbrook (totally understandably and justifiably!) wanted the money he earned from the Oklahoma City Thunder back when he signed his current contract, and the Lakers (less understandably, but still somewhat defensibly) don’t want to trade an eighth-grader and/or a sixth-grader just to get rid of Westbrook and hopefully get themselves closer to their stated goal of title contention. And as a result of these mutually understandable decisions, both sides are likely going to continue to be stuck in this self-created stalemate where no one is happy, but no one wants to make the sacrifice necessary to consciously uncouple.

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