Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired a veteran capable of starting at the point in Patrick Beverley, is the team more or less likely to trade Russell Westbrook?
Does LeBron James give a hint on Twitter?
Wasn't it just a month ago when James and Westbrook sat on opposite ends of the gym at summer league, a very visible dual snubbing?
A lot has changed since mid-July. James signed a maximum extension adding two additional seasons (though he can opt out ahead of 2024-25). A run at Kyrie Irving appears to be a dead end with Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets moving "forward with [their] partnership."
The short answer is, "More." The Lakers have been trying to get out of Westbrook since before last year's trade deadline. At least now, with Beverley, they have a suitable starting point guard to replace him. L.A. can look to deal without needing a ball-handling guard in return.
Per one NBA executive, the Lakers have three remaining "obvious" partners they should pursue to make a Westbrook swap in the Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs or Utah Jazz.
The Lakers are believed to covet Myles Turner from the Pacers, giving the team additional versatility up front with Anthony Davis, Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones. L.A. executive Rob Pelinka used to represent Buddy Hield and was close to acquiring the high-volume shooter last summer.
Per multiple external sources, Indiana isn't eager to part with its veteran players without significant compensation. The Lakers might be willing to give up a first first-rounder in a Westbrook swap, but two may be too much for a deal.
The Pacers' ask may depend on the other two listed teams. The Spurs still have tremendous flexibility under the salary cap, along with veterans Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott. Richardson is on an expiring contract, but McDermott's $13.8 million for 2023-24 isn't appealing to the Lakers.
Los Angeles isn't believed to be interested in moving Westbrook with draft compensation for players that don't move the needle toward a championship. But nearing a deal with the Spurs might prompt the Pacers to lessen their demands, especially if they want to get out of the 2023-24 obligation to Hield at $18.6-$23.3 million (depending on incentives).
Similarly, further conversations between the Lakers and Jazz could spark the Pacers to action. Or perhaps L.A. can find value as a third team in a Utah/Donovan Mitchell blockbuster.
The Lakers might be able to improve their depth with Jazz veterans Malik Beasley, Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and/or Rudy Gay. Some are better fits than others; some would be reluctant gets for the Lakers. And if the New York Knicks were the team getting Mitchell, perhaps L.A. would end up with Evan Fournier or Cam Reddish. That's a bit much to speculate on, but there's a reasonable chance Utah will resolve Mitchell's situation before the season.
The price and the return will determine how likely the Lakers are to send off Westbrook in a trade. If that means waiting until the trade deadline, so be it. Interested teams may prefer Westbrook to earn half his $47.1 million contract in Los Angeles. This would reduce a trade partner's financial obligation to Westbrook after an in-season deal.
How Would Cap Space in 2023 Influence a Westbrook Deal?
The Lakers have diligently minded its cap space for the summer of 2023. Getting out of Horton-Tucker's $11 million player option could give the franchise up to $30 million in cap space. That number could rise and fall by the 2023-24 salary cap (currently projected at $133 million), a new collective bargaining agreement, their first-round pick in 2023 (the New Orleans Pelicans have swap rights) and which players they intend to re-sign.
Even if the team managed to get near $35 million in cap space, that's only enough to pay a maximum salary to players with fewer than seven years of experience. If the target is Irving as a free agent, he could earn up to a max of $46.6 million.
Will a team offer Irving that amount? That's a difficult question, but it's certainly a risk for the Lakers, with $17 million below what Irving may expect. Irving is anything but predictable. He's not the only potential free-agent target, but banking on cap space to lure the perfect player next summer may be a fool's errand.
If the Lakers and the Pacers agreed to a deal with Turner and Hield, cap room would no longer be a factor for L.A. McDermott from the Spurs would similarly decimate that flexibility.
But the Lakers should be realistic. If the goal is to win with James with two years fully promised, hoping on a half-baked cap space plan for half of that time is unwise. If there's a move to give the 2022-23 Lakers a chance to improve dramatically, cap room in 2023 shouldn't be an impediment.
In terms of sacrificing future firsts (likely 2027 and 2029), the danger is that James and Davis may be long gone by then. Los Angeles would only have first-rounders every other year. And if the team wanted to acquire its next star player via trade, the Lakers wouldn't have any future firsts available until 2031. That's only a worthwhile sacrifice if, in return, the franchise can take a clear, immediate step forward.
Acquiring Beverley should help the Lakers. He can play behind Westbrook or replace him in the starting group after a trade. Somewhere in that mess of iffy options is a solution that could lead to a Westbrook deal. In the absence, the Lakers and new head coach Darvin Ham will do their best to prove that last year's debacle can be solved in the locker room and on the court.