Exploring Lakers' NBA Free-Agent Options amid Rumors About Russell Westbrook's Future

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJune 29, 2022

Exploring Lakers' NBA Free-Agent Options amid Rumors About Russell Westbrook's Future

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    The Los Angeles Lakers aren't expected to be among the NBA's most active teams in free agency this year. Los Angeles was interested in a sign-and-trade for Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, but that fell through. Russell Westbrook has decided to opt-in on a $47.1 million salary, which leaves the Lakers with virtually no financial flexibility this offseason.

    According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, the Lakers plan to move forward with Westbrook in the lineup.

    "Though a Westbrook trade is still possible, the Lakers are currently planning on beginning next season with him on the roster, multiple league sources told The Athletic," Buha wrote.

    The Lakers won't be completely silent in free agency, though. They still need to build around their core of Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While L.A. is limited to signing minimum contracts and the mid-level exception—and therefore extremely unlikely to bring in a star—it does have options.

    Lets take a look at some of the routes Los Angeles could explore in the coming days and dive into some of the latest buzz.

Re-Sign Current Players

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    Convincing players to sign minimum contracts can be difficult, but the Lakers can start with some of their own.

    Role players like Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony and Avery Bradley are set to be unrestricted free agents. They're already familiar with the roster and the franchise and may still be better than some external options if willing to sign minimum contracts.

    Then, there's shooting specialist Malik Monk, who is a candidate for the $6.4 million mid-level exception. Monk is likely to draw heavy interest on the free-agent market, but he's also stated that he's willing to take less to stay in L.A.

    "They might not be able to pay me as much as I want,” Monk said, per Buha. “But I could be here and be way more comfortable as a Laker than going to any other team and they're paying me $5 million more. So it's just me trying to figure out what team would really want me."

    While the Lakers' roster didn't jell this past season, it's fair to wonder if the chemistry can improve under new head coach Darvin Ham. If Los Angeles believes that Ham can get more out of the current group, then re-signing players is a good way to begin free agency.

Add New Role Players on Minimum Deals

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    If general manager Rob Pelinka is determined to turn over the supporting cast, the Lakers will have to largely target aging veterans and underwhelming ancillary pieces willing to sign league-minimum deals.

    The Lakers are highly unlikely to land a star by going this route, but they could still find value outside of the organization.

    Nets forward Blake Griffin, for example, could be on L.A.'s radar, according to Sean Deveney of Heavy.

    "There will be a number of teams that look at him, one Eastern Conference executive told Deveney. "Chicago, Miami, the Lakers, maybe even Boston. They’d be in the mix, at least."

    While Griffin is no longer the All-Star he once was, the 33-year-old is a seasoned veteran still capable of high-level play—which he showed during Brooklyn's losing playoff series against the Boston Celtics.

    "He made a big, big impression around the league with the way he played against Boston, even though it was just a couple of games," the unnamed executive said.

    Los Angeles might not find many nightly contributors eager to sign minimum contracts. However, there's value in a player who can play big-time ball in critical games.

Target Buyout Free Agents

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    Signing Monk, who shot 39.1 percent from three-point range last season, to the mid-level exception would make plenty of sense for the Lakers. Los Angeles could also potentially use the exception on a buyout free agent like Houston Rockets point guard John Wall—though Wall appears to be headed to the cross-town Clippers.

    "He will become one of the top free agents in the 2022 class, though Wall intends to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers upon clearing waivers, sources said," Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports wrote.

    While Wall isn't likely to reverse course and land with the Lakers, he does provide an example of opportunity. According to Haynes, Wall is expected to give back $7 million of his $47.4 million 2022-23 salary in order to become a free agent.

    With $40 million still still inbound, Wall may be willing to play on a $6 million contract for a season.

    Expect Los Angeles to keep its eye on buyout candidates when free agency opens on Thursday. Pricey potential trade chips like Danilo Gallinari—who may soon be dealt to the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs, according to Zach Klein of WSB 2 Atlanta—could be ones to watch here.

Trade Westbrook

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    While the Lakers may plan to go into the season with Westbrook, a trade isn't completely off the table.

    According to Buha, Los Angeles would still like to move the 33-year-old if it can do so without surrendering future assets:

    "That could change if the Lakers find a team willing to take on Westbrook’s expiring contract without also demanding a future first-round pick (2027 or 2029), which hasn’t been the case thus far. The Lakers would still prefer to trade Westbrook, given the concerns surrounding his declining play, his fit with James and Davis and his willingness to adapt to the team’s desired role for him."

    Buha also noted that Los Angeles could be willing to include future draft picks if it can land a player like Irving or "another disgruntled star."

    A Westbrook trade feels extremely unlikely at this point, there's no telling what could happen in the coming days. If the Lakers are approached with a favorable offer, they will trade Westbrook.

    If that happens, Los Angeles will find even more options for tweaking its roster ahead of the 2022-23 season.


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