As the Lakers sitting in the early stages of a long and crucial offseason, most of the basketball world seems to be aligned with one core belief.
That the Lakers must and will trade Russell Westbrook.
And for good reason. His only season alongside james lebron and Anthony Davis was an absolute disaster, largely due to the fact that he was rarely around these two. As the only still healthy member of the Lakers big three, Westbrook became the avatar of Lakers failure. By the time it all wrapped up three weeks ago, it was clear the team would be better off without Westbrook and vice versa.
Only there is no overhaul in the NBA. Rob Pelinka can’t untrade for Westbrook.
That’s why the Lakers need to seriously consider not trading Westbrook.
Wait, didn’t you just say this season was a disaster?
And that the Lakers would be better off without him?
Won’t it be just as bad next year?
Shouldn’t Pelinka do everything to get rid of Westbrook and try to forget that this nightmare happened?
You’ll have to explain this one…
OK, let’s talk about off-season game theory. But before you do, please understand that this is less of a Westbrook defense than a case for a new way of looking at how to untangle this mess. Once the Lakers start believing that Westbrook could be a Laker again next year, the rest of the league will eventually understand as well.
And maybe then the Lakers can start to negotiate on a level playing field.
So here’s my question: how good is Pelinka’s poker face?
As long as the Lakers operate from a weak position, Pelinka won’t win any trades involving Westbrook. The ringleader is what economists call a distressed asset. League leaders are sizing up the Lakers and seeing a team that’s in winning mode now with a 38-year-old LeBron and therefore desperate to change course.
That means other teams might be willing to help fix Russell Westbrook’s problem in Los Angeles, but only if they can seal the Lakers with new ones.
The Lakers should take bad contracts, not just deals that skip next season like Westbrook is doing — assuming he gets his $47 million player option back. Offers that extend over two… three… four years. And they’ll want draft picks, too. The Lakers don’t have many, but if you want us to take Westbrook, you’ll spit those picks out.
It would be worth it for the Lakers if the players they pick up put them in a position to challenge for titles for the next few seasons. But how many of these offers exist? How eager are the Lakers to help an opposing team get drunk on $47 million in cap space with a two-draft pick trim?
Pelinka won’t be able to be choosy, but he can’t accept a bad deal just because he’s afraid LeBron will leave as a free agent if he doesn’t.
Because anything good for basketball will most likely be bad for business in the long run.
The only way for the Lakers to stop digging their hole deeper is to find their way into a position of strength. And the only way to do that is to convince the rest of the league that they aren’t as desperate to trade Westbrook as everyone thinks. Let them just bring it back for another season and give their big three another shot.
But isn’t it worth the cash in the long run if it means winning another championship before LeBron retires? And LeBron said he doesn’t care about draft picks!
To all this I say, what is the rush?
The Lakers need to take the emotion out of this. Westbrook can only help his value with the Lakers, and as next season unfolds teams that thought they were contenders will realize they are not and become more willing to change course. . To exchange players who were thought to be untouchable in the offseason.
New possibilities are opening up for the Lakers as they wait for the trade deadline, and they could come even sooner than that.
What’s wrong with waiting for the Lakers? Not giving LeBron better, more balanced support early in the season? Risk Westbrook poisoning the locker room? Is the installation of a new head coach failing? These are all questions the Lakers are asking and should be asking as they develop scenarios for this offseason.
But if the Lakers enter next season with Westbrook on the roster, his value skyrockets and their options explode.
At that point, Westbrook’s contract becomes the key asset, and the Lakers can suddenly be selective with whom they pick up or, perhaps, can justify keeping Westbrook all season long and benefiting themselves. of this ceiling relief.
Maybe you score academic points. But it’s the Lakers, and LeBron is never going for that.
Well, that’s where the communication between Pelinka, LeBron and Klutch Sports is key. Everyone is complicit in Westbrook’s business. It was a mistake. And it would be unreasonable for James to expect Pelinka to wipe him out.
In this scenario, James, Davis and Westbrook would have to revisit their discussions of sacrifice last summer and make their games work together. Westbrook may have to consider the possibility of coming off the bench.
Westbrook needs to feel the love from the Lakers stars. He made his feelings about his role known when he joked during his April 11 exit interview that LeBron and AD’s message to just be himself on the court “wasn’t not true”.
Bridges need to be repaired, of course.
But there are incentives on all sides to make it work. Perhaps a new coach with a better relationship with Westbrook may have a better chance of selling the former All-Star on a reduced role. By his own admission, Westbrook had essentially ignored Frank Vogel by the time the regular season rolled around.
The Lakers could definitely give Westbrook something he hasn’t had in nearly half a decade: stability. They were Westbrook’s fourth team in four years.
And while his presence was a glaring problem for the Lakers last season, it was far from the only one. Injuries weren’t what separated them from the top of the Western Conference, but without the injuries, the Lakers certainly would have been a playoff team. And maybe even with James and Davis missing 68 games combined, they could have slipped into the playoffs.
It was the rest of the roster that doomed the Lakers to lottery obscurity, it took more than half the season for recently departed Vogel to find bench players he could trust.
What would the Lakers look like if their three stars were healthy and had capable players around them? We do not know. We have never seen it. Davis, James and Westbrook have only played 21 games together.
In a perfect world, that would be all they would get. But it’s a complicated mess. And for a franchise whose long-term vision is built on being an attractive destination for stars, ceiling space and flexibility are paramount.
Negotiating for Westbrook only further limits your flexibility. Another poker term: it limits their number of outs.
The Lakers were so sure Westbrook could work alongside James and Davis last year, it shouldn’t be that hard for them to convince themselves it was better the second time around with players who are actually playable.
Haven’t you heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results?
Hey, I didn’t say this was a good situation. I’m just trying to help the Lakers avoid making things worse.
The Lakers have next to nothing to lose by bringing Westbrook back next season. Is it ideal? Of course not. But tell me what it is. Swapping it will always be an option. The Lakers shouldn’t be afraid of other teams calling their bluff. Their position can only improve by seeing how their asset, in this case Westbrook and his huge contract, matures.
It’s simple economics. To see?
Didn’t you get, like, a D in economics at the University of Montana?
Hey, it’s not about me. And it was pass-fail, thank you very much.
Maybe you’re right. I can’t stand the thought of watching Westbrook in a Laker uniform anymore.
You’re not alone. In the meantime, try “Winning Time”.
(Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)