For the entirety of the summer so far, the Los Angeles Lakers have made it seem like they are totally fine with Russell Westbrook returning to them for another season, with that propagandist spiel spear-headed by new head coach Darvin Ham, who genuinely seems like he wants to coach the guy.
That’s nice and all, and maybe Ham’s genuineness is, well... genuine. But as it pertains to Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka, and the rest of the Lakers’ organization, they seem to be actively and feverishly pursuing multiple pathways to try and trade Westbrook while also bringing in a piece (or pieces) that may catapult them back into title contention.
Whether those pieces come from the Nets in the form of Kyrie Irving, the Pacers in Buddy Hield and/or Myles Turner, or elsewhere... the Lakers seem to be moving towards getting rid of Westbrook by one way or another.
However, the sentiment dating back to the 2022 trade deadline is that the Lakers don’t want to attach substantial draft capital to any deal involving Westbrook. At that time, the Lakers could only attach their 2027 first round pick to move him, and reportedly refused to do so. Now, they can move that pick as well as their 2029 first round pick, and although they may be willing to part with one of those two, it sure seems like they don’t want to get rid of both.
On a recent episode of “Please Don’t Aggregate This,” Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer revealed some additional details on what the Lakers are offering to teams in negotiations surrounding Westbrook within a broader discussion of a Kyrie Irving trade (emphasis mine).
“[Kyrie Irving] opted in with the expectation to play in Brooklyn because, like I’ve been saying all along, there’s no real two-team trade framework with the Lakers that makes any sense, from the Brooklyn side of things. I know Lakers fans will say “Oh, wouldn’t they rather get two first round picks than let Kyrie walk for nothing?” Well, the Lakers, from everything that I’ve heard, have never put a second first round pick on the table in any of these conversations they’ve had around the league. And the Nets don’t want Russell Westbrook or to buy him out. It just seems, again, by process of elimination... he’s going to be back in Brooklyn, regardless of the Kevin Durant situation.”
Although Fischer was focusing solely on the idea of a Lakers-Nets trade, it is interesting that he mentioned the Lakers are refusing to include that first not only with the Nets, but with other teams too.
That would align with the report that was released regarding the Lakers’ negotiations with the Pacers on a different Westbrook-centered deal, which stated that negotiations between the two parties were “dead” due to the Pacers desiring a “second first-round selection.”
For now, the Lakers remain committed to holding Westbrook if it means they have to move all of their first round compensation available to trade between now and the summer of 2023. Although LeBron’s Lakers probably couldn’t care less about the current middle schoolers who might end up becoming lottery talents in 2027 and 2029, the team may need to save least one of those selections for an in-season upgrade at the deadline to edify a potential contender. If the Lakers trade away both first round picks to get rid Westbrook this offseason, they won’t have the ability to sweeten a future deal at this year’s deadline, in next year’s offseason, or during the following season.
Speaking of deadlines — the only impending deadlines the Nets, Jazz, or Lakers have to adhere to as they seek to extricate themselves from their partnerships with currently disgruntled stars are self-imposed ones. In all likelihood, any and all of these sticky situations may drag on into the start of the 2022-23 season.
However, the Lakers might be more pressed to get a deal done than the other two clubs, considering the fact that they likely won’t want the distraction of having Westbrook around by the time they do eventually open up training camp.
Once the Lakers do reconvene in September (wow, regular NBA offseasons are long!), we’ll finally find out if the Lakers are serious about this stance if they haven’t already moved on from Westbrook. If they aren’t, and the Nets and Pacers hold tough in their demand for multiple first rounders, then the Lakers will have a serious choice to make: burn their future for the present, or burn the present for the future.
If they take the latter route by sending out two more firsts to get some viable NBA talent back for Russ, then the ultimate cost of having him in town for a single season might amount to a whopping three first rounders (not to mention the gone, but not forgotten Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope).