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Lakers Rumors: Hornets still have ‘real’ interest in Russell Westbrook

For all the posturing the Lakers have done when it comes to Russell Westbrook this offseason, it’s one of the original teams linked to him that still might be the most likely to be a trade partner.

In the immediate aftermath of the season, the Hornets were one of the primary teams mentioned in trade discussions. While the noise dwindled during the postseason, it has picked back up again in the days and weeks before the start of free agency.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer has the latest report on the interest between the Lakers and Charlotte in his latest 2022 mock draft:

The Russell Westbrook interest that Marc Stein reported months back is real. Though Westbrook makes little sense as a player next to Ball, he does have an expiring contract and the Hornets could be dropping the bag for restricted free agent Miles Bridges, plus LaMelo Ball’s extension is around the corner. It’s a good time to move some other long-term salary (e.g., Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier) for an expiring deal in Russ. They could also explore moving up from 13 and 15 into the top 10. No matter what, the Hornets should prioritize finding a big scoring wing who can complement LaMelo. Bridges is good. With him or not, the Hornets need someone.

A swap of Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier for Russ would save the Hornets money in the short- and long-term future. Next season, the Hornets would pay $4.4 million less and, with Westbrook being an expiring contract, he would be off the books at the end of the season while Hayward and Rozier are set to make around $54.7 million next season. Rozier’s contract runs through the 2025-26 season at $24.9 and $26.6 million the final two years.

While each has hefty contracts and certain narratives attached to them because of that, both have been mighty productive in Charlotte. In the 2020-21 season, both were borderline All-Stars in the first half of the season. Hayward’s injury issues are well-documented but Rozier has been a more than solid backcourt mate for LaMelo Ball.

Over the last two seasons, Rozier has averaged 20.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 44.7% from the field and 38.1% from the 3-point line. He’s developed into a great off-ball guard with a dependable jumper, scoring 1.13 points per possession (PPP) in spot-up opportunities last season, according to NBA’s track data. For reference, DJ Augustin (1.52 PPP) and Wayne Ellington (1.37 PPP) were the only Lakers north of that mark last season.

Ultimately, though, this is a deal driven by the financial aspect of things. Shams Charania of The Athletic offered a peak at the Hornets’ situation (emphasis mine).

Rival executives expect Hornets restricted free agent Miles Bridges to command a maximum — or near-max — deal in July, and sources said there’s hesitancy from Charlotte to match a max sheet. Bridges had a breakout season in 2021-22, averaging 20.2 points, seven rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In a league that saw wings such as Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins and Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have game-changing impacts on a run to the NBA Finals, Bridges’ two-way ability on the wing has become incredibly valued toward winning.

In trading away Hayward and Rozier, the Hornets would clear over $106 million in future money that could be committed to Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball and P.J. Washington, all of whom are set to enter free agency or be eligible for extensions in the next two years.

Now, that’s $106 million going onto the Lakers cap sheet and it wouldn’t be ideal moving forward for the Lakers, but it would be a much better situation in the short term if the Lakers really are looking to compete for a title in possibly the final season of LeBron James as a Laker.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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