Friday, August 5, 2022

Proposed blockbuster deal brings $120m ex-All-Star to Lakers

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As the NBA offseason drags into its dog days, the Lakers seem calm as they search for a game-changing move that could significantly change the landscape for the 2022-23 roster. Instead, it could be an off-season highlighted by a new manager, Darvin Ham, and a slew of relatively untried newcomers like Lonnie Walker IV, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant.

These are players who should make the Lakers more fun overall next season – young players who are rushing and have a chip on their collective shoulders. But they’re not the kind of guys that make Lakers fans dream of an 18th Banner.

To have a realistic shot at it, the Lakers need to find a taker for point guard Russell Westbrook and bring back help from the roster in the process. The problem is that the Lakers overbid Westbrook, who has a $47 million contract and a badly damaged reputation.

That has stirred some in the league to suggest the Lakers should return to talks reportedly leaked in the spring – that the LA and Charlotte could work out a deal that would send Westbrook to the Hornets. And while the Lakers don’t want another player with injury concerns, beggars don’t have a choice in this case. What some believe the Lakers should be doing is dumping Westbrook and his hefty contract in Charlotte against Gordon Hayward’s equally hefty contract.

“Hard to see how they can do much better,” said an Eastern Conference executive.

It would be relatively easy to construct a working Hornets-Lakers trade for the two players, with Charlotte having to make up for the move with another salary. With Westbrook on one side, the Hornets can bid Hayward, who makes $30 million next year, and Mason Plumlee, who makes $9 million. Those contracts would be enough to make the deal legal under NBA rules.

The Lakers were unwilling to combine their two available first-round draft picks in one deal in 2027 and 2029. You could eventually trade both of them, but you’d prefer to use them to bring two separate players into the game. To get Charlotte to face Westbrook, the Hornets would have to take one of those Lakers picks back.

But only one, and that’s the key. Getting Hayward is a plus for the Lakers, but they would also be doing the Hornets a small favor. Hayward is under contract for $31.5 million next year and the Lakers would take on that money, with Westbrook’s contract expiring after that year.

The Hornets had high hopes for this season but the legal troubles of Miles Bridges, who has been charged with domestic violence, undermined their plans and some expect they could try to sell some pieces and refocus their building efforts on guard LaMelo Ball . Hayward would be at the top of the sales list.

According to an April report by veteran writer Marc Stein, the Lakers didn’t want Hayward because he was too fragile. Hayward missed 81 games in the last three seasons, more than 35% of his games, but he also averaged 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists over that span, which accounted for 39.6% of his 3s.

The Lakers will have to accept that a Westbrook deal will leave them with a less-than-perfect player. In Hayward’s case, the issue is health, but the Lakers should be willing to take that risk.

“You treated (Westbrook) like an asset, like he was giving you something back,” the manager said. “You can get something, but it will be a player who has his own issues, like Hayward, where it’s both a health issue and a contract issue. But if you can keep him healthy with LeBron (James) and Anthony Davis, you have a contender. It’s a big if, but that’s where the conversations about Russ take place. You have to take back an ‘if’.”

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