Thursday, May 5, 2022

Lakers expected to pledge futures on trade with Russell Westbrook

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News of the Los Angeles Lakers’ coaching quest is dominating the headlines surrounding the team right now, but Russell Westbrook’s future role within the franchise is a close second.

Right now, the Lakers are in limbo. No head coach, no clear plan on how to rebuild a failed roster, and few assets to add trading bait to the equation. However, once a new coach is in the hot seat, attention must turn to the elephant in the room – Westbrook’s immediate future in Los Angeles.

However, with a one-year contract and $47 million left, leaving Westbrook won’t be easy, especially if the Lakers have no intention of sweetening the deal with additional assets. The problem is that most of the team’s future draft stock is either owned directly by the New Orleans Pelicans or they have the right to swap picks thanks to the deal to acquire Anthony Davis in 2019.

Thankfully, the Lakers still own their picks for 2027 and 2029, but adding them to a deal would be a terrible affair considering Westbrook’s arrival should signal a multi-year dispute. However, if the All-Star Guard is unwilling to agree to buyout terms and other teams don’t show much interest in helping the Lakers, the team may have little choice.

According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, the Lakers might be tempted to box their draft picks alongside Westbrook if that would ensure protection was removed from their cap sheet, regardless of the visuals such a deal would create.

“Based on their deadline activity and everything I’ve heard from last season, I think the Lakers will do whatever it takes to keep their first-round picks going into 2027 and 2029. But if trading one of the picks is the best way to offload Westbrook and/or significantly improve the roster, I think they’ll give it strong consideration. They’re in the win-now deal with James and Davis,” Buha wrote.

It’s hard to imagine LeBron rejecting James, but next season he’ll be 38 years old. Eventually, time will catch up with one of the greatest players to ever play the hardwood, and when it does, the Lakers’ cap will drop drastically.

Assuming LeBron can play at his current level until he’s forty, the Lakers would have another two years to contend for a championship with a score of Anthony Davis and LeBron. After that, the team needs to be rebuilt around Davis – that’s always been the plan.

With such a narrow window of opportunity for success, the Lakers need to nail all of their roster movements this offseason. So if that means trading Westbrook away and losing a draft pick or two, the front office has to bite the bullet. Additionally, you can’t count on a late 30’s LeBron to bail you out constantly during games, even if his 30.3 points, 6.2 assists and 8.2 rebounds was one of the statistically superior years of his career signal.

The Lakers’ journey to redemption begins with the hiring of a new head coach who can unify the current roster and immediately improve the team’s fortunes. Tinseltown needs a modern manager, one who is innovative in his game calls and plans, one who is not afraid to upset the apple cart if it means wresting another five or ten percent from his players.

We’ve heard from Mark Jackson, Phil Jackson, Quin Snyder, Nick Nurse and even Doc Rivers in the last few weeks – all of whom are strong candidates for one reason or another. But the front office has to be sure that the next coach can command the respect of the dressing rooms and produce the goods on the hardwood – and that’s a tough task for any executive.

However, until a new coach is brought in, the Lakers won’t be able to make roster moves and prepare for the start of next season, and from what we’ve seen recently from the team, they’ll all need to use the extra time, which got them to miss the playoffs.

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