The Lakers have approximately one Russell Westbrook trade available to them – with the Rockets for John Wall, Los Angeles sending Houston a draft-pick sweetener.
But that doesn’t make sense for the Lakers.
Wall has been worse than Westbrook the last several seasons. Ending last season injured and not playing this season, the 31-year-old Wall has given no reason to believe he has surpassed Westbrook. Wall and Westbrook have similarly high guaranteed salaries through next season. In fact, Wall’s is slightly higher. Wall’s playing style wouldn’t fit much better with LeBron James and Anthony Davis than Westbrook’s does.
Otherwise, the NBA is short on terrible long-term contracts. It’s tough, nearing impossible, to see another team trading for Westbrook considering the Lakers’ limited draft capital to use as enticement.
Which is a long way of saying the Lakers – with LeBron and therefore no choice but to hold out hope for a 2022 championship – are stuck with Westbrook.
At least they realize it.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“It’s not like [Westbrook’s] a tradable player where if it’s not working out you just move on; everybody in the NBA knows that,” one team source said. “So it’s got to work. This is the only option. There is no Plan B for this season.”
It’s also unsettling for the Lakers.
Westbrook is struggling in the most predictable ways, which leaves less hope of a turnaround. His jumper is clunky, creating spacing issues with LeBron and Davis. Westbrook is accustomed to dominating the ball, so he either hijacks too much of the offense with his inefficient play or struggles to get into a rhythm in a limited role. He’s an inattentive defender.
Previously, Westbrook overcame these flaws through sheer force of will. He drove to the basket with abandon and elevated to connect on short jumpers. The defensive attention he drew created quality passing opportunities. But at 33, Westbrook appears to be losing the athleticism necessary to play that way.
The last couple seasons, Westbrook struggled early then hit a stride late. Though the challenge rises as he ages, he could still find his form by the playoffs.
Maybe Frank Vogel, who recently benched Westbrook in crunch time, will find a way to reach Westbrook. If not, another coach could try.
A smaller trade could relieve pressure.
Los Angeles isn’t out of options for this season. But practically all the options include Westbrook holding a prominent place on the roster.
They Lakers are reaping what they sowed.