As training camp approaches, and more and more of the conversation surrounding Russell Westbrook concerns his role with the Lakers and how he fits with their newly-acquired guards Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schröder, it feels like a fait accompli that Westbrook will at least be starting the season in Los Angeles.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Lakers have stopped pursuing Westbrook trades, but it doesn’t feel like their heart is really in it.
One deal that has been discussed ad nauseum since early in the offseason has been a trade with Indiana, the basic construction of which would bring back Myles Turner and Buddy Hield for Westbrook and two first-round picks. The Lakers have had interest in Turner dating back to the trade deadline and nearly made a move for Hield last offseason, so it’s actually a little surprising that nothing has happened on that front.
Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan said Wednesday that he expects Turner to start the season in Indiana. Reporting from Shams Charania afterward revealed that this Turner news comes after the Lakers and Pacers re-engaged in trade talks within the past week, but no forward momentum came from those discussions:
“I'm told the Lakers and Pacers did engage in some trade conversations this week and the Pacers' demand for two unprotected first-round picks … is just not appealing for the Lakers.”— The Rally (@TheRally) September 21, 2022
NBA Insider @ShamsCharania reports on the Pacers' plans to keep Myles Turner into the season. pic.twitter.com/rQjk6DDv0R
“I’m told the Lakers and Pacers did engage in some trade conversations this week and the Pacers’ demand for two unprotected first-round picks has not changed throughout the summer for any deal that includes Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. And today like you said Chad Buchanan the Pacers GM came out and said that they expect Myles Turner to start the season with the team at center. And that two first-round pick price is just not appealing for the Lakers.
“And right now, they’re going to be very prudent, I think, in their approach that they’re going to take going into the season. There’s a long runway with Russell Westbrook this team has. They can see how the team starts, they have up until the trade deadline, he is on an expiring contract. The Lakers’ mindset, I’m told, is they realize that this is a very significant bullet that they’re gonna have to use, when you look at two unprotected first-round picks, they have to time out exactly when does it make sense to make a trade like this. Right now, this Pacers package of Buddy Hield and Myles Turner is not what they’re willing to trade two first round picks for.”
The Lakers have held firm in their resistance to include both the 2027 and 2029 unprotected first-round picks in a trade, especially if the return doesn’t make the team a no-brainer contender. The “long runway” that Charania mentions with Westbrook seems like a ploy by the Lakers to manufacture some leverage so they can retain some of their draft capital. The problem is that leverage is only created if Westbrook plays well, and if the Lakers believed he was capable of that level of play on this roster, they wouldn’t be trying to move him.
While the Indiana trade is on ice, the Lakers’ other favored trade targets in Utah also appear unlikely to make their way to Los Angeles. The Lakers have had their eyes on Bojan Bogdanović first and foremost, but also Jordan Clarkson.
For now, Bogdanović appears to be out of L.A.’s price range. Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote Wednesday, “A source close to Bogdanović tells the Tribune that he expects to be traded soon.” The only player Bogdanović could be traded for is Westbrook, and Utah will only do a Westbrook deal that nets two Lakers picks, so that trade isn’t happening with Los Angeles. Larsen also reports that Clarkson will be starting the season to fulfill a role as a veteran who can help “put the organization on the best footing”.
In theory, deadlines should create action, and the start of training camp should have been the motivator for the Lakers, and a number of other teams, to finalize their 2022-23 rosters. As it stands, no one’s making any moves. The Lakers have to hope that they aren’t the only team to regret that decision, and that some front office will come knocking shortly to revisit a deal that should have been done during the offseason.