Lakers Are Taking the Right Approach with Russell Westbrook Amid Bradley Beal Rumors

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJune 20, 2022

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, 
by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers were arguably the NBA's most disappointing team this past season. L.A. had two superstar players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis and added a third when it traded for nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook.

However, Westbrook didn't mesh with head coach Frank Vogel or with the rest of the L.A. roster. Aside from a few shining moments, the 33-year-old was as big of a disappointment as the Lakers' 33-49 record, and there has been plenty of speculation about his future this offseason.

The Lakers are at least considering trading Westbrook and his $47 million 2022-23 player option.

However, it doesn't appear that Los Angeles is simply looking to dump Westbrook and his salary while taking whatever it can get in return. According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, the Lakers are eying notable players like Washington Wizards standout Bradley Beal.

O'Connor said the following on The Void podcast (h/t Jacob Rude of Silver Screen and Roll):

"The one name that I've heard recently is Bradley Beal is a guy they want. I'm not sure the interest is as mutual. Beal, it seems Miami would be more of the threat to take him away from Washington. I don’t think you can rule out Boston either because of his relationship with Jayson Tatum. But the Lakers are trying to angle for some moves like that, use the Russ expiring and the 2027 and 2029 firsts.”

Like Westbrook, Beal has a player option for the 2022-23 season. He could opt to stay in Washington, perhaps as a trade chip, or enter free agency. Beal said that teams have tried to recruit him in the early offseason.

"A lot," Beal told reporters. "You know I can't give you names."

If Beal does return to the Wizards, Washington won't be inclined to accept a bargain-basement offer for him—which is why L.A. might have to surrender multiple picks along with Westbrook in a trade.

While Beal may not be a realistic trade target for the Lakers, he represents the sort of All-Star-caliber player L.A. should be trying to get in a Westbrook deal. The Lakers should be aiming high, and there are a couple of reasons for this.

The first and most obvious is that James and Davis are still one of the most talented duos in the NBA. Both battled injuries during the 2021-22 season, and if both can stay healthy next year, Los Angeles should be back in the playoff mix.

On paper, swapping Westbrook for an underwhelming role player or two doesn't make L.A. more of a contender. And the reality is that unloading Westbrook and his contract may cost the Lakers a future first-round pick anyway.

"Teams have been demanding the inclusion of at least one first-round pick to take on Westbrook’s massive expiring contract, according to league sources," The Athletic's Jovan Buha wrote last month.

Even if the Lakers view a Westbrook trade as addition by subtraction, it's going to cost them. General manager Rob Pelinka might as well swing for the fences if he's going to dump Westbrook and his expiring contract.

If the Lakers cannot land a player of Beal's caliber, then they should keep Westbrook for one more season. He's going to get a fresh start under new head coach Darvin Ham, and that may be enough to unlock the potential of a James-Davis-Westbrook trio.

Westbrook's friction with Vogel seemed to be a big part of the issue this past season.

"I think it's unfortunate, to be honest, because I've never had an issue with any of my coaches before," Westbrook said, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "I'm not sure what his issue was with me or I'm not sure why, but I can't really give you an answer to why we really never connected."

Vogel seemed to try forcing Westbrook into his system rather than building a scheme around his core players. Ham, who is a rookie coach, may be more open to working with Westbrook's strengths.

Giving Westbrook and Ham a chance to jell is far from the worst idea for Los Angeles.

Coughing up a future first-rounder just to move Westbrook, on the other hand, would be poor planning. James is only signed through this season, and Los Angeles is not expected to get a commitment from him before the draft and free agency, per Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus.

If James departs next offseason, L.A. will likely be eying a full-on rebuild. Those aforementioned 2027 and 2029 first-round picks could prove to be critical pieces of the rebuilding process—either as trade capital or for eventual use.

If Pelinka can use those picks and Westbrook to bring in another third star like Beal, great. Los Angeles can make one more run with James and then see where the proverbial chips fall after the season. If he can't, then he should simply see how things unfold under Ham and look to reload in 2023.

Whatever ultimately transpires this offseason, Los Angeles is taking the right approach with Westbrook by entering the trade market with ambition. The worst a team like Washington can do is say no.