Ranking 6 Realistic Russell Westbrook Trade Ideas for Los Angeles Lakers
What's next for the Los Angeles Lakers after their disappointing 2021-22 season? Beyond finding a new head coach after firing Frank Vogel, the franchise needs to fix its fatal mistake from the 2021 offseason and trade Russell Westbrook.
On Monday, LeBron James praised Westbrook for "his competitive spirit, which he brings to the game every single night," but when asked if the Lakers should bring Westbrook back?
"I'm not going to sit here and make decisions for the front office," James said in a non-answer, though he wasn't willing to throw Westbrook entirely under the bus. "I love being a teammate with Russ."
The reality is that Westbrook will almost undoubtedly opt in to his $47.1 million salary and the Lakers will look to deal him over the offseason. The challenge will be finding a trade partner.
Who might be willing to take Westbrook? Here are six teams that could realistically do it, in order of most to least likely.
Oklahoma City's Flexibility
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team with significant cap space (approximately $32 million). That's not enough to absorb Westbrook's $44.2 million in June, but it would work if the Lakers took on Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala (assuming both of their options are picked up for next season before July).
Oklahoma City is likely to climb over the cap July 1, when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's extension kicks in. The franchise could aggressively look to take on unwanted contracts in May or June to help two or three teams dump salary—for multiple draft considerations, naturally. For a contract as big as Westbrook's, the Thunder would certainly demand a pair of first-rounders (likely in 2027 and 2029).
The Lakers wouldn't get appreciably better with Favors and Muscala, but it could mark an intermediary step. The deal would drop them under the projected luxury tax ($149 million), which would open up the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($10.3 million) and the bi-annual exception ($4.1 million). Without a Westbrook trade, the Lakers project to have only the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.4 million), which may not be enough to re-sign Malik Monk.
L.A. would also get a massive trade exception via the Thunder ($31 million), available for an entire year to help the Lakers find additional talent in future trades. If the team used its NTMLE or BAE, it would have a hard spending limit of $155.7 million, so the Lakers might need to redirect players such as Favors to another franchise to utilize a full exception.
The Thunder could also be the key to unlocking a multiteam trade with any number of franchises eager to get rid of expensive veteran talent but unwilling to take on Westbrook's salary.
The key for a deal with the Thunder might be finding another team to compensate Oklahoma City so that dumping Westbrook only costs a single first. Getting that done while bringing back impact talent may be too much to ask. The compromise might be a lottery-protected 2029 first that converts to a second if the Lakers miss the playoffs.
The possibility the Lakers will pivot to the Indiana Pacers' Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield has been buzzing since the trade deadline. Both players are nearing 30 years old and have expensive multiyear contracts. Brogdon has struggled to stay healthy, and health was a significant problem for the Lakers this season. Hield is a former client of L.A. general manager Rob Pelinka.
The Lakers may also have interest in Myles Turner, who was shopped heavily by Indiana at the trade deadline despite a foot injury. The Pacers, who sent Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings, may not be looking to deal Turner (who has one year left on his contract) until at least the next deadline in February.
Do the Lakers want to double down on players with histories of missing games?
The Pacers may not value Westbrook (a potential buyout candidate), but the Lakers may have a shot if he can help Indiana clean up its books. Could Los Angeles land all three? Westbrook with Nunn (who plans to pick up his $5.3 million player option) would work mathematically, but the Lakers would undoubtedly need to send additional compensation to the Pacers.
Indiana would also need to gauge the market before even considering a so-so offer from the Lakers. A top-three pick in May's draft lottery may make Turner more expendable.
Help Charlotte Dump Gordon Hayward
The Charlotte Hornets have an overpaid, oft-injured veteran in Gordon Hayward. He will earn $30.1 million next season—but has a year more than Westbrook on his contract, at $31.5 million. Hayward might be the rare target with whom the Lakers would have some leverage.
Would Terry Rozier, who is under contract through 2025-26, be enough to entice L.A. to take on Hayward?
Charlotte has a bright young core of players with LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges (a restricted free agent this summer due a significant pay raise). Clearing long-term salary may make a lot of sense for the Hornets.
Other names could interest the Lakers: Mason Plumlee, Kelly Oubre Jr. or even P.J. Washington, who will be extension-eligible this summer. If Washington's asking price is too high, Charlotte may look to move on.
Hayward is talented. But he's struggled to stay on the court.
The Houston Rockets and Lakers discussed a Westbrook-for-John Wall swap at the deadline, but L.A. wasn't willing to give up a first-round pick. That stance probably won't change, but the Lakers could have interest in Eric Gordon, Christian Wood and David Nwaba.
That would leave nearly $95 million in salary on Houston's books with Westbrook and Wall, two players the Rockets wouldn't value. Buyouts in the $3-10 million range might make that more palatable, but in a Westbrook swap, Houston would also clear nearly $39 million for 2022-23 if it dealt Gordon, Wood and Nwaba.
Houston may find a better market for Wood elsewhere. If not, he could give the Lakers a viable scoring big to help offset any time Anthony Davis misses with injury. But unlike Davis, Wood is a marginal defender.
The Rockets would probably fight for at least a first-rounder and pick swaps from the Lakers.
A Path to Jerami Grant?
In July, the Detroit Pistons could have significant cap space ($20-38 million). The Lakers might be willing to compensate the team for taking on Westbrook but would presumably target Jerami Grant.
Grant has one year left at $21 million, and the Pistons may not look to extend him. He's also likely to be in demand from other teams. How much would L.A. have to offer to convince Detroit to take on Westbrook while also parting with Grant? One future first doesn't seem like enough.
A pair of firsts might be too rich for the Lakers unless the Pistons were willing to accept sufficient protection. Kelly Olynyk could also provide some value to the Lakers as a big with shooting range.
Mutual Cleanup with the Knicks?
Like the Lakers, the New York Knicks didn't near internal expectations. Julius Randle didn't live up to his 2020-21 All-Star campaign. Would the Lakers look to reunite with their 2014 draft pick (No. 7)?
Given his contract and positional duplication with James and Davis, that seems like a stretch. Still, New York might be open to giving up Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker, Nerlens Noel and Cam Reddish.
The challenge for the Lakers would be to incentivize the Knicks to clear salary when most of those players have one year left on their deals (only Fournier's extends beyond the 2022-23 season). The latest buzz around the league suggests the Knicks aren't interested in Westbrook, but it's April. That could change by June or July.
If none of the offers are suitable for the Lakers, waiving and stretching Westbrook could be the better answer. Instead of giving up draft considerations, the team could drop under the luxury tax for the 2022-23 season, keep Monk and look to add talent via additional moves (Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, etc.).
It may be the last resort, but if the Lakers signal they are willing to embrace stretching Westbrook, that might salvage their leverage with teams that believe L.A. has no choice but to trade the 2016-17 NBA MVP.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.