The biggest — and most obvious — obstacle the Lakers are going to have clear in the upcoming offseason will be figuring out what the future holds for Russell Westbrook. While the preference seems to be, considering how disastrous this season went, for him to not play in Los Angeles again, shedding a contract north of $47 million next year will be no easy task, to say the very least.
But it’s not quite as impossible a scenario as it may seem. While the Lakers have cornered themselves when it comes to moving Westbrook, it’s still a corner with some options to get out of, even if it’s going to require some flexibility and pain to do so. Over the last week alone, multiple reports about potential Westbrook suitors have surfaced, showcasing some of the options the Lakers may have.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three potential suitors and trades the Lakers could make to part ways with Westbrook.
One of the first teams to emerge as a potential Westbrook suitor, the ties between owner Michael Jordan and Westbrook, who has a signature shoe with Jordan Brand, are obvious. But there are other reasons the Hornets could be intrigued to make a deal with Los Angeles.
Led by LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges, the Hornets have built an exciting young core moving forward. But that young core is going to need to be paid soon, starting with Bridges this summer and Ball soon after. The problem, then, is the large Gordon Hayward contract already on the payroll.
Predictably, the massive four-year, $120 million contract Hayward signed in 2020 did not age well, especially as he has dealt with injuries each of the last two years. Charlotte very well may be looking to get off that deal in exchange for Westbrook’s expiring, which would allow them more flexibility to pay Ball in the future. When healthy, Hayward is still a productive player, but he’s played just 44 and 49 games the last two seasons and is hardly the insurance against injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis the team was searching for in adding Westbrook.
A Hayward-for-Westbrook trade wouldn’t work financially, as the Hornets would need to shed about $10 million more in salary. Short of including Kelly Oubre — unlikely given his age and productivity this year — or a sign-and-trade with Montrezl Harrell — unlikely given how things ended last time in Los Angeles with him — the other potential option could be a sign-and-trade for PJ Washington.
A forward with some versatility that’s struggled to find a consistent role in Charlotte, Washington still has range and defensive ability that would make him intriguing to pair alongside Anthony Davis. Bridges’ ascension as a four and Charlotte’s constant search for a true center gives plenty of reason to believe he could be on his way out this offseason.
Pinpointing a deal for him would be tough, but a three or four-year deal worth roughly $10 million annually seems like fair value, and would be enough financially to complete the trade. The catch in doing a sign-and-trade for Washington is that acquiring him would hard-cap the Lakers.
It’s not something that stopped them before — they were hard-capped in 2020-21 — but it would make navigating roster construction the rest of the offseason tricky. Simply trading Westbrook for Hayward and Washington on a 4-year, $40 million deal would actually save the Lakers about $7 million, giving them some more operating room under a hard cap, too.
Perhaps the Lakers would have to include a future pick, but a trade built around Westbrook and Hayward and potentially Washington would make sense for both parties.
While much of the talk about Westbrook going to the Pacers has been more speculative, there is a framework of a deal that could work for both sides. Unlike the Hornets, the Pacers are outright tanking and, because of that, make sense as a Westbrook suitor.
They also have some large contracts that would make sense to trade for, one of them hilariously being our old friend Buddy Hield. Malcolm Brogdon is another player on a big contract that the Lakers have previously had an interest in during past offseasons.
Like the Hornets deal, the Pacers would be turning a pair of long-term contracts into one big short-term cap hit. That isn’t quite seen as enough help, though, and the Lakers would likely have to attach an asset to the Pacers to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, teams know the Lakers have backed themselves into a corner, and will squeeze them for every asset possible.
Adding Talen Horton-Tucker to the trade would still work financially. Adding some of the team’s limited picks, either with or without Horton-Tucker, could work as well. Packaging Westbrook and Tucker for Hield and Brogdon saves the Lakers $13.5 million in the short term as well.
The catch in this deal is two-fold. For one, Brogdon has plenty of injury concerns, and has played just 150 of a possible 231 games across the last three years. And yet, Brogdon is signed through the 2024-25 season while Hield is signed through the 2023-24 season. This deal would severely limit the Lakers’ future spending but would give them two productive — when healthy — players on the roster. Perhaps that’s a more-preferred risk to going after Hayward for the Lakers, but it presents a similar type of downside if it goes wrong.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are always liable to doing something wild, and trading for Westbrook might just be that move. For one, they have the contracts to match up with it. For two, unlike either Indiana or Charlotte — who would almost certainly buy out Westbrook’s contract — the Knicks might be crazy enough to actually play him.
Putting together the trade is relatively simple. Pick some combination of Julius Randle (due $26.1 million in 2022-23), Evan Fournier ($18 million), Derrick Rose ($14.5 million) and Alec Burks ($10 million) that gets you in the ballpark of Westbrook’s $47 million and you’re more or less set.
The Lakers have long chased Rose, and could see adding him as a positive, despite him being a 33-year old point guard that can’t shoot. Acquiring Randle would only come after some awkward apologies and/or “forgive and forget” acknowledgments considering how things ended in his first tenure in LA, too (noticing a trend here?). Fournier and Burks would be wings the team sorely lacked this season, though the former would come on a much longer contract than the latter.
In reality, this would effectively just be an instance of two teams swapping problems. The Lakers and Knicks had talks of some sort during the trade deadline, though they almost certainly didn’t include Westbrook or likely many of the players that would need to be included in this deal for it to work financially. But there is an established relationship there.
For the Lakers, it’s a shuffling of the deck, turning one really bad contract into multiple bad contracts in hopes of either a change in scenery leading to more production from the players acquired or smaller contracts may be easier to move. For the Knicks, the motivations are similar: Trading out players who didn’t work for one that is only under contract for one year and allowing another reset next summer while maybe putting some butts in seats in the interim.
None of these trades are ideal, obviously, because an ideal Lakers trade of Westbrook that another NBA team would agree to does not exist. In some way, the Lakers are going to take a hit if they’re going to get rid of Westbrook, it’s just a matter of assessing which hit hurts less and can help the team win more in potentially the final year they’ll have James and Davis together.