There was a time when the Los Angeles Lakers would have been at the center of every major rumor during free agency and would have made a giant splash in a summer with so many talented players hitting the market.
These days, however, the Lakers are signing veterans such as Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov while they look to build a talented roster around youngsters such as Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.
It isn't ridiculous to imagine the Oklahoma City Thunder trading their star before next summer, when he hits free agency. After all, there's no guarantee he'll re-sign with the Thunder, and the organization can't afford to lose another superstar without getting something in return after Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors.
Westbrook won't sign a contract extension with the team before he hits free agency, as David Aldridge of Turner Sports reported earlier in the week. So it isn't hard to see how a trade could materialize.
But the Lakers reportedly don't feel like they need to trade for Westbrook. They think they can wait him out until free agency, as Chris Broussard of ESPN said in an interview on MSG.
"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?"
There are a few potential answers to that question.
For one, there are never any guarantees in free agency, and the Lakers would be banking on Westbrook's wanting to lead a team of young guns during the development periods of their careers. Meanwhile, teams with more established stars in place will likely inquire about his services as well. If Westbrook is chasing titles, other teams on the market might be more appealing.
But the Lakers would also be able to offer him a larger contract if they traded for him, which could play a major part in signing Westbrook during free agency. At the moment, the Thunder appear to have three selling points for Westbrook if they pitch him on re-signing in OKC:
- They can offer him the most money.
- He's comfortable with the organization and has spent his whole career there.
- The organization has always actively tried to build a championship roster and will continue to do so.
Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical told Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd that he wouldn't be surprised if Westbrook returned to the Thunder:
Everybody, at the moment, is posturing.
The Thunder want folks to believe they have a chance to re-sign Westbrook. That will give them leverage in trade talks. The Lakers want folks to believe they have a chance to sign him over the summer. That will give them leverage in trade talks.
If other teams believe the Thunder are stuck in a position where they have to trade Westbrook, they'll try to steal him for pennies on the dollar. If the Thunder believe the Lakers are desperate to add Westbrook now to improve their chances of signing him to a long-term deal, they'll jack up their asking price, knowing the Lakers are putting all of their rebuilding eggs in the Westbrook basket.
It's a game of cat and mouse. Ultimately, it may make the most sense for the Thunder to trade him. For the moment, however, both the Thunder and Lakers will echo the same stance: We'll just sign him over the summer.
Meanwhile, the Lakers probably aren't done making moves this summer. As Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported, "Veteran Nick Young has two more years on his contract totaling $11 million, but it will be a surprise if he’s not traded or waived before training camp." Meanwhile, the team "could be 'in the mix' for Maurice Harkless, according to a person familiar with his thinking," per Bresnahan.
And Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported that the Lakers are interested in veteran power forward Drew Gooden as well:
It's hard to envision a role for Young on the Lakers next year, with Deng, Ingram and even Russell holding down the wing, so his departure would be logical. And Harkless is capable of playing either forward position, which would give the Lakers valuable depth and round out the rotation. Meanwhile, Gooden would be a logical backup for Randle and Mozgov.
Westbrook is the move everyone wants to talk about, but Harkless and Gooden represent the types of moves the Lakers seem more likely to make at the moment. The days of attracting enormous talents to the organization don't have to be a thing of the past, but they don't seem to be a thing of the present.
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