Over the past week or so, as offseason activity has ramped back up, the momentum seems to suggest that the Lakers are trying to move Russell Westbrook before the start of the season.
However, as the number of days before training camp dwindles, and potential trade avenues fall through — for instance, the Lakers can no longer help facilitate a Donovan Mitchell trade between the Jazz and Knicks — the likelihood of the Lakers retaining Westbrook theoretically increases. And that means the Lakers have to save face by publicly reckoning with that idea.
In the past few days, that has manifested itself in Jeanie Buss calling Westbrook the team’s most consistent player of the previous season, and now with reports from veteran NBA insider Marc Stein that head coach Darvin Ham wants to play Westbrook and Patrick Beverley this year.
Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley have already been in contact since becoming Lakers teammates, league sources tell me, and new coach Darvin Ham has told them he has lineups in mind to play Russ and PatBev side-by-side.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) August 30, 2022
More around-the-NBA notes: https://t.co/t5akSYVuKz
In his Substack, Stein wrote that the Lakers are more interested in finding a real role for Westbrook than sending him home, should a trade fail to take place:
If no trade involving Westbrook materializes and if he is on the roster when the Lakers start practicing on Sept. 27, new Lakers coach Darvin Ham remains determined to carve out a real role for Westbrook. Sources say that the Lakers, to date, have strongly resisted the idea of shelving Westbrook completely until they can find a trade for him like the Rockets tried last season with John Wall — even after trading for longtime Westbrook adversary Patrick Beverley.
Ostensibly, it makes sense that a team would want to find a way to play its two best — and highest-paid! — guards (all due apologies to Austin Reaves) together. Their skill sets are somewhat complementary, with Beverley functioning well off the ball as a spot-up-shooter and able to take on point-of-attack defensive assignments while Westbrook prefers to roam on defense and have the ball in his hand on offense.
Then again, even if the two players have spoken since becoming (temporary, hopefully) teammates, that doesn’t do anything to erase the years of bad blood that exists between them. Admittedly, Westbrook squashed his beef with Rajon Rondo last year, but the Beverley feud runs much deeper. “Being in contact” is far different from burying the hatchet, no matter how many tweets Beverley has put up nominally in support of Westbrook.
So I’m guessing this how it works in LA. Something all the time huh We Excited and We hungry. Watch us Work https://t.co/DtzG0HaKqG— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) August 31, 2022
For one, that support has yet to be publicly reciprocated by Westbrook. Secondly, Beverley knows how to put on a show. It wouldn’t be the first time he has expressed excitement about a basketball situation that ended up being fleeting, like when Beverley fanned the flames of the Grizzlies bandwagon even though he claimed he knew he would be on another team soon enough.
It’s just good optics to drum up support for what the Lakers have now instead of going radio silent until a potential deal is made. Best-case scenario, the Lakers make a Westbrook trade and no one has to actually worry about the locker-room dynamics of Westbrook and Beverley together; worst-case, Westbrook sticks around and Ham already has a playbook ready to accommodate him.
Until training camp officially begins and the roster is set, much of what emerges from the Lakers has to be considered public posturing. They’re in a tough situation, so all they can do is smile, put on a brave face, and hope that better days are yet to come.