The Lunacy Behind the Los Angeles Lakers Keeping Russell Westbrook!
When considering bringing back Russell Westbrook, the Lakers would be wise to remember the astute words of Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
While nobody knows for sure what they are planning to do this offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers have been publicly and privately adamant that they prefer to bring Westbrook back rather than spending any draft picks to move him. This is despite the Lakers having hired a rookie head coach in Darvin Him and Westbrook’s salary making it impossible for the Lakers to find players with the requisite size, shooting, and defense to complement their three superstars.
When you understand how daunting a challenge it would be, you can’t help coming to the conclusion it would be pure lunacy for the Los Angeles Lakers to even consider bringing back Russell Westbrook under any circumstances.
1. Russell Westbrook Is Not Going to Become a Pit Bull on Defense
The Lakers’ new head coach Darvin Ham has made it clear that defense will be his priority with the Lakers and he expects to challenge Russell Westbrook to become an aggressive pit bull leading the team’s defense next season.
Anybody who has watched Russell Westbrook on defense the last few years of his career can immediately see the disconnect between what Darvin Ham wants out of Russell Westbrook and what he’s likely to get based on history. Ham must be thinking he’s getting the OKC Thunder version of Westbrook as a point guard five years ago if he thinks Russell can become the tip of spear for the Lakers’ defensively like Jrue Holiday was as the point guard for the Bucks.
The Lakers better be successful in moving Russ this summer because they’re making a crazy mistake opening the season thinking Westbrook will suddenly become an elite defender. Bottom line, Russell Westbrook is not Jrue Holiday.
2. Keeping Russell Westbrook Prevents Lakers Building Deep Roster
If the Lakers do not trade Russell Westbrook and his $47 million expiring contract, their only path to trading for a legitimate rotation player would be by packaging Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and their two picks.
That should be enough to net the Lakers a budding young player like 23-year old shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. or 24-year old small forward OG Anunoby but then their small portfolio of trading chips would be completely exhausted. The Lakers could also sign a second legitimate rotation player with their $6.4 million taxpayer MLE but would then like last season be forced to build out the rest of their roster with unproven or veteran minimum salary players.
Keeping Westbrook will likely result in the Lakers adding just two legitimate rotation players (1 via trade and 1 via free agency) compared to the 5 they could add (3 via trade and 2 via free agency) if they instead traded Russ.
3. Keeping Russell Westbrook Limits Lakers Access to Free Agents
The Lakers’ rebuilding efforts this summer have primarily focused on trades since they’re over the cap and will only have the $6.4 million taxpayer MLE available to use on free agents. But that could change if the Lakers trade Russ.
Were the Lakers able to trade Westbrook, THT, and Nunn while taking back $10 million less in annual salary, they could get under the $155 million hard cap, which would then give them greater access to this year’s free agent class. They could then use the full $10.3 million MLE and the $4.1 million BAE plus be able to receive free agents via sign-and-trade transactions. The Lakers would have an additional $8.0 million to spend on free agents if hard capped.
Trading Russell Westbrook gives the Lakers access to young free agents like Isaiah Hartenstein, Tyus Jones, Gary Payton II, and Otto Porter, Jr. whom they might not be able to sign without trading Russ and accepting a hard cap.
4. Keeping Westbrook Could Cause LeBron James to Reject Extension
One rumor that’s made the rounds is LeBron James does not want the Lakers to bring back Russell Westbrook. The word is LeBron knows signing Russ was a mistake but is not willing to sign an extension if Pelinka doesn’t fix problem.
Fixing the problem means one of two options: the Lakers either include a pick to move Russ or waive-and-stretch him to they can get under the hard cap and supplement what they get for Russ in a trade with some quality free agents. Push come to shove, there’s no way the Lakers can finish this offseason with Russell Westbrook still on the roster. No matter how you spin it, that would signal a complete failure of the Lakers front office to build a winning roster.
The Lakers greatest fear has to be that bringing back Russell Westbrook raises the risk that LeBron James to leave the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent next summer to a dangerous level that the Lakers should avoid at all costs.
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