The Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz have reportedly emerged as the top potential landing spots if Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook is traded this offseason.
"As far as Westbrook's trade market, I've heard Indiana and Utah are the two most likely destinations," Buha said. "I think Utah is, from what I've been told, more likely than Indiana. There are several permutations there with Indiana where it could be Myles Turner and Buddy Hield together or one of the two."
Although the group of teams where Russ could end up has changed throughout the summer, the core issue has remained the same: how many first-round draft picks is L.A. willing to include for someone to take on the nine-time All-Star's contract?
Buha noted it's "very clear" teams around the league want two first-rounders to absorb the $47.1 million salary-cap hit in the final season of Westbrook's five-year, $206.8 million deal. So far, the Lakers have stood firm on their desire to include one first-round choice.
The question is whether Los Angeles is willing to enter another season with a core of James, Westbrook and Anthony Davis after last year's 33-49 disaster.
Before James' extension, the answer was trending toward yes because the Lakers were staring down a summer of uncertainty next year. Now, with a little more clarity on the next few seasons, it feels more likely L.A. will include another pick to reshape its roster.
"I think they are going to ramp [trade talks] up before training camp and get more aggressive from what I've been told, but whether that aggression includes giving up two first-round picks, I still think they're going to fight to try to keep that second first-round pick," Buha said.
The proposed Pacers trade makes a ton of sense on paper for L.A., especially as more teams finalize their rosters and fall out of the running as Westbrook destinations.
Turner can step in as the team's starting center, which allows Davis to play his preferred spot at the 4 more consistently, and Hield brings a much-needed outside shooting element to the lineup while Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV share the point.
A starting lineup of Beverley, Hield, James, Davis and Turner with Walker, Austin Reaves, Kendrick Nunn, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant as the key reserves carries a lot of upsides.
Ultimately, the sense of a fresh start after everything went wrong last season is just as important as the lineup upgrades. Things have the potential to spiral out of control if the Lakers keep the same core and get off to a slow start.
So, while keeping Westbrook is still within the realm of possibility, it's a reasonable bet L.A. will eventually include the extra first-round pick to get a deal done.