Admittedly, time has not been kind to last week’s column, which has aged with discourteous haste.
Unfortunately for Kings fans, the Los Angeles Lakers are not as dumb and helpless as many—in the deepest parts of their hearts—would like them to be.
At the end of last week, the Lakers acquired defensive tormentor Patrick Beverely in a trade that sent Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson to the Utah Jazz, signaling that Russell Westbrook is going to be shown the door.
In spite of the hope surrounding first-year head coach Darvin Ham as well as having LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the prospect of trying to embark upon another season with Russell Westbrook as the team’s point guard would only impede LA’s ability to make a run for the playoffs.
It’s clear that the Lakers know that better than anyone.
The question was always whether or not they could feasibly dump the noxious point guard. And as it turns out, the possibility exists in one way or another.
When in talks to make a deal with the Nets to land Kyrie Irving in a trade, the Lakers were reluctant to include their 2027 and 2029 first round picks before giving in and allowing them to be part of their offer. However, while the draft compensation had appeal to Brooklyn, an inclusion of Westbrook had the opposite effect.
While no such agreement ever emerged that would send Irving to Los Angeles or anywhere, it’s evident the Lakers still have a path to relinquishing themselves from the former-MVP while also improving their roster.
They were understandably hesitant to part relating to the aforementioned future picks because they’d already expended a lot of draft capital to get Anthony Davis a few years ago. But the idea of using those coveted picks to A) get rid of Westbrook and B) add a valuable piece to aid in championship contention seemed adequate enough to disregard any fear of missing out in future drafts.
As Marc Stein wrote for his always-paywalled Substack newsletter, the Lakers could use the 2027 and 2029 picks as part of a three-team deal, such as the hypothetical package to send Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to the Knicks or some other team. This is especially plausible considering they did not surrender any picks in exchange for Beverley.
Minnesota was only able to yank Rudy Gobert from the Jazz by offering Danny Ainge four first-round picks. The Lakers’ picks, as Stein posits, could provide the requisite value Ainge is looking for.
But the return for LA would have to be substantial, too. Of course, that would mean the two-pronged scenario of getting rid of Westbrook and adding a player (or players) that can boost the chances for contention.
That last part is key. Los Angeles, again, is not dumb and helpless, and so they won’t drop two future first-rounders simply to get Westbrook eighty-six’d. No one would. Besides, even with LeBron and AD, there are areas in need of improvement, including wing defense and three-point shooting.
Luckily for the Lakers—and unluckily for their Western Conference rivals—Utah would be more than willing to let some more of their veteran talent head their way in that case. With an eye on rebuilding and recalibrating things, the Jazz are not in any way tied to guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, and/or Malik Beasley, all of whom could help the Lakers.
Even as that offers immense promise, additional options exist.
Indiana is another team with an eye on the future. They also have cap space.
There’s definitely a possibility, as many have noted, that the Lakers could try to go after guys like Myles Turner and/or Buddy Hield. Both Pacers have been subjected to rumors, and Sacramento’s old sharpshooting friend in particular has been a target of the Lakers for years.
Even the Spurs have been thrown out there as another rebuilding club that could essentially eat Westbrook’s contract. Though they don’t seem to offer the same magnitude of appeal in terms of return, Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson would be undeniable difference-makers.
Whatever this potential deal that includes the two first-rounders ends up reeling in for LA, it’s clear this week that the Lakers are in a solid position to get better and therefore prove to be another team that will stand firmly between the Kings and the postseason.
It was wishful thinking to presume the Los Angeles Lakers would ever give Russell Westbrook the chance to sink their season once again.