What’s Real and What’s Just Posturing As Lakers Seek Best Westbrook Trade?
The Los Angeles Lakers continue to push the narrative they’re willing to bring back Russell Westbrook if they can’t find a trade for him that meets all of their major trade criteria and makes them legitimate title contenders.
Through various leaks, the Lakers have also said they won’t take back more salary, pay increased luxury taxes, accept contracts longer than one year, or give up more than one first round pick in the available Westbrook trades. Unless a surprising new trade opportunity arises or it turns out the Lakers were just posturing, it’s starting to look more and more possible that the Lakers might open training camp with Russell Westbrook still on the roster.
But are the Lakers seriously willing to start this pivotal season with Russell Westbrook on the active roster after the disastrous results of last season? Are they going to force rookie head coach Darvin Ham to coach Westbrook? The Lakers have done an admirable job creating their own narrative about Westbrook and how desperate the team is or is not to trade him but we’re now approaching the time when Rob Pelinka will have to decide what to do.
Let’s compare the three main criteria the Lakers have claimed will affect what they’re willing to accept in a Westbrook trade and find out what’s a limit and what’s just Los Angeles posturing for potential trade partners.
1. No Luxury Tax Increase?
The Lakers do not want to pay more in luxury taxes than the $45 million paid last season. Considering each $1 of payroll will cost the Lakers $3 in luxury tax, the Lakers will not make a Westbrook trade that increases taxes.
Making sure the annual salaries taken back are close to the annual salaries sent out in any Westbrook trade is usually easy. In reality, this criteria significantly limits how much salary the Lakers can take back in any trade. Were it not for luxury taxes, the Lakers could take back players in a Westbrook trade with combined salaries up to 125% of Russ’ $47 million or $58 million. Of course, that $11 million could also cost $33 million in taxes.
On the flip side, the Lakers could take back as little as $38 million in salaries when trading Westbrook but that would not be acceptable to fans or critics. Bottom line, the Lakers will only take back what they send out in salaries.
2. No Long-Term Contracts?
The Lakers currently have $35 million in possible cap space for summer 2023. They want to limit any Russell Westbrook trade to players on expiring contracts to preserve that cap space to pursue Kyrie Irving as a free agent.
Taking back only players with expiring contracts would seriously limit the players for whom the Lakers could trade Westbrook as none of the Lakers’ possible trading partners have enough expiring contracts to trade for Russ. That means the Lakers would need a three-team trade. Ironically, the two players with expiring contracts on the Pacers and Jazz happen to be the two players the Lakers covet the most: Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic.
That could be the basis of a three-team trade where the Lakers give the Pacers and Jazz each a post LeBron James unprotected first round pick to trade for Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic and a third player.
3. No Trade for Both Picks?
The Lakers’ desire for cap space for next summer, Myles Turner’s and Bojan Bogdanovic’s expiring contracts, and potential value of the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 post LeBron James first round picks hint of a trade like the one above.
While the Lakers were unwilling to give up two unprotected picks for what the Pacers and Jazz could individually offer, the opportunity to add the best player from each of the two teams on expiring contracts is worth two picks. The trade is obviously great from the Lakers’ viewpoint and probably also for the Pacers who only give up Turner. The harder sell is the Jazz who give up Bojan and have to take Russ. We know Danny loves unprotected picks.
This may be the only Westbrook trade capable of transforming the Lakers into a championship contender. That makes it worth of giving up both of the Lakers’ first round draft picks and not demanding any protection.
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