With the NBA Draft and free agency on the horizon, the biggest question mark surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers is what they will do with Russell Westbrook.
After Westbrook’s first season with the Lakers was an extreme disappointment, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that both parties wanted to move on this summer.
There has been a shift in recent weeks though as Westbrook attended Darvin Ham’s introductory press conference in support of the Lakers’ new coach. Ham spoke at length about Westbrook and his potential future with the Lakers, saying the point guard accepted his challenge to be great on the defensive end of the floor for L.A.
Despite Ham’s comments making it seem like Westbrook may be staying in L.A., it could also be a leverage play since the Lakers have been unwilling to include future first-round picks in potential deals along with Westbrook’s $47 million expiring salary.
If a team was to trade for Westbrook, it likely wouldn’t for the player he is on the floor. Rather, it would give teams an opportunity to unload some long-term salaries by sending two or three players back to the Lakers in return.
One team who has had reported interest in that is the Charlotte Hornets considering they have some long-term salaries on their books
According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Hornets’ interest in a potential deal for Westbrook is real:
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.
If the Hornets were to pull of a trade for Westbrook, the players they would be sending back to the Lakers could be some combination of Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr. or Mason Plumlee.
The oft-injured but still-productive-when-healthy Hayward has two years remaining on his contract at a little more than $30 million per year. Rozier has the most time remaining on his deal as his four-year, $96 million extension will kick in this upcoming season.
Meanwhile, Oubre and Plumlee are both expiring salaries that the Hornets can unload in a potential deal. The Lakers would be interested because it can give them valuable rotation players on relatively cheap contracts.
While Westbrook is not exactly an ideal fit next to LaMelo Ball, the Hornets need to clear salary in order to keep some of their key young pieces like Miles Bridges, who is a free agent this summer.
Lakers interested in Beal and Irving
If the Lakers are unable to break up Westbrook’s salary into two or three role players, another option is to trade him for another max player.
Two options that the Lakers have reported interest in are Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving, although both would have to leverage their way to the L.A. due to the organization’s lack of assets to acquire players of their caliber.
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