Lakers Rumors: Buzz on Russell Westbrook Pursuit and Other Roster Moves

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2016

Los Angeles won't stop highlighting the rumors market anytime soon.
Los Angeles won't stop highlighting the rumors market anytime soon.Greg Beacham/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers won't win a title next season. 

That sounds mean, but the Lakers sit in the middling throes of a rebuild. It's not a bad thing, either—the future looks much brighter than it has in a long time.

Why not be positive? The core of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle hasn't gone anywhere. Luol Deng changes the culture of a locker room and leads young players. Television money made the Timofey Mozgov contract look silly, but a starting center—even if he winds up being a stopgap solution—is a starting center.

Oh, and there's a guy by the name of Brandon Ingram, who through two games in the Las Vegas Summer League has shown flashes of brilliance while posting 9.5 points per game.

Alas, general manager Mitch Kupchak recently painted a clear picture of the organization's short-term fate:

Realism never hurts, especially in the stacked Western Conference.

The note doesn't mention the future after next season, though, which is what the Lakers continue to build for after Kevin Durant wouldn't even give the team a visit and USC product DeMar DeRozan preferred to remain in Toronto.

Kupchak seems to understand the Lakers just aren't at the point of luring someone like Durant to town. The locale and franchise history are no longer enough to woo a major name. 

That explains the interest in Maurice Harkless of the Portland Trail Blazers, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.

"The Lakers have more than $30 million left to spend toward next season’s payroll," Bresnahan wrote. "They are still seeking a small forward and could be 'in the mix' for Maurice Harkless, according to a person familiar with his thinking."

Los Angeles added Deng, but the interest in Harkless speaks to the direction of the franchise. The St. John's product is just 23 years old. In his lone season in Portland, he averaged just 18.7 minutes, managing 6.4 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting.

Snatching the restricted free agent would be another forward-looking move and perhaps allow the team to move on from Nick Young. Bresnahan recently wrote it would "be a surprise if he’s not traded or waived before training camp." Adding to a young core mentored by Deng isn't a bad idea by any means.

It also might be enough to get the Lakers back in the conversation with Russell Westbrook. According to Chris Broussard of ESPN in an interview with MSG, the Lakers believe Westbrook will consider them next summer.

"The Lakers think they can sign (Westbrook)," Broussard said. "I was talking to some people, some executives yesterday about possible trades they might do, or offer, and I was told they think they can sign him as a free agent. So, why should they give up anything?"

If the Lakers keep adding pieces and show a marked improvement in the win column this year, Westbrook might be more inclined to consider the other factors such as locale and legacy.

More good news—David Aldridge of Turner Sports reported Westbrook won't do a deal with the Thunder anyway.

NBA writer Sam Vecenie put it best:

The Lakers don't have the assets to make a deal for Westbrook anyway. Kupchak would have to gut the team to bring him on via trade, which makes the patience for next summer all the smarter.

Even if the Lakers whiff on Westbrook next summer, provided he doesn't get traded and ink an extension, other stars such as Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry may be available.

Either way, the Lakers continue to creep toward their lost status as a quality free-agent destination. Even if they don't reclaim it fully, three years of smart drafting could develop an army of young players into a strong, contending core down the line. 

It's a gigantic shift from the instant-gratification ways of old, but this summer has been all about culture change under the guidance of new head coach Luke Walton. In hindsight, this offseason might look like the one where everything came together for the new-look Lakers.

The hopeful thoughts about the team's chances at critical additions now and far into the future sure don't hurt.

    

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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