As currently constructed, the Los Angeles Lakers are nowhere
closer to escaping the hole they dug for themselves last offseason.
While injuries played a part in their struggles, it’s fair to say
that the Russell Westbrook experiment couldn't have gone much
worse. Westbrook struggled to blend off-ball alongside LeBron
James, and his fit was immediately clunky.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has been saying all of the right
things, discussing how he could get the most out of Westbrook and
stressing that there's plenty of blame to go around for last year.
Meanwhile, the front office continues to explore possible Westbrook
According to The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz, the
Indiana Pacers recently rejected an offer from the Lakers that
would have sent Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to Los Angeles in
exchange for Westbrook, a 2027 first-round pick and multiple
second-rounders. Indiana is reportedly ready to accept if the
Lakers include their 2029 first-round selection as well. Los
Angeles hasn't been willing to do so, which is why talks are
currently at a standstill.
For both sides, these negotiation tactics make sense. There’s
absolutely no reason for the Pacers to help the Lakers, especially
if they're only receiving one pick to take on Westbrook’s $47.2
million salary for 2022-23. Holding out for both the 2027 and 2029
picks with little to no protections would be a fair haul for both
Hield and Turner while absorbing an albatross expiring.
Los Angeles is stuck in a Westbrook bind, and it seems they have
three remaining options: run it back, hold out for Kyrie Irving, or
pull off this win-now deal with the Pacers. At least the Indiana
deal would bring back two starters to place alongside LeBron and
Some might argue that the trio of James, Davis and Westbrook
only played 21 games together, so we haven't seen enough to
properly evaluate this group. However, it’s fairly apparent that
this core isn’t good enough to challenge most of the Western
Conference’s elite teams. Westbrook was unable to function as a
secondary option more often than not, and now he'll turn 34 years
old in November. Not to mention, the West will likely be tougher
than ever — with teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver
Nuggets finally getting healthy and several up-and-coming squads
expected to take a leap forward as well.
Earlier this month, Westbrook parted ways with his longtime
agent, Thad Foucher, which set off alarm bells. Foucher had
represented Westbrook throughout the entirety of his NBA career,
helping him earn $291,756,333 from his NBA contracts alone. Why
would they split up now? Well, Foucher didn’t mince words in
a written statement to ESPN’s
Adrian Wojnarowski, citing "irreconcilable differences" regarding
the direction of Westbrook's career.
“Now, with a possibility of a fourth trade in four years, the
marketplace is telling the Lakers they must add additional value
with Russell in any trade scenario. And even then, such a trade may
require Russell to immediately move on from the new team via
buyout," Foucher explained. "My belief is that
this type of transaction only serves to diminish Russell’s value
and his best option is to stay with the Lakers, embrace the
starting role and support that Darvin Ham publicly offered.”
Less than a week after Foucher’s eye-opening remarks, trade
winds began to pick up again around the future Hall-of-Fame point
guard. There was also the Summer League awkwardness, where James
and Westbrook sat on opposite sides of the arena and didn't
interract with one another. Reading the tea leaves, it sure feels
like Westbrook's days with the Lakers are numbered.
Based on Kravitz’s intel from Indiana, the deal between the
Lakers and Pacers would be “done tomorrow” if an additional pick is
offered alongside Westbrook. The Brooklyn Nets don't seem to be in
any rush to move Kevin Durant or Irving — with some NBA executives
predicting that both players will be in Brooklyn when the 2022-23
season begins — so this Indiana trade may be the Lakers' only other
option to significantly improve their title odds for next
As Foucher laid out, the marketplace is telling the Lakers all
they need to know right now about extracting peak value in a
potential Westbrook trade. It may seem like the Lakers are “losing”
this deal based off of asset accommodation alone, but what are the
alternatives? In order to move off of Westbrook's
contract and bring back key contributors, the
Lakers must include both first-round picks. Think of it like this:
One first-rounder is to get Indiana to take on the Westbrook
contract, and the other is to acquire Turner and Hield.
Honestly, based off that viewpoint, Indiana’s angle seems more
than fair. It’s been impossible for Los Angeles to find a willing
taker for Westbrook, and the Pacers are ready to take on his salary
while also relinquishing two key contributors who are certainly
worth a future first-round pick.
Acquiring Hield and Turner would be an instant game-changer for
the Lakers’ postseason aspirations and a win on several levels.
Hield is a talented sharpshooter who would thrive in the Lakers'
system, hitting open looks in the corner or while running off
perimeter actions. Thanks to the gravity provided by James and
Davis, Hield would consistently feast from the perimeter. The
29-year-old would be the team's best outside shooter, and the
Lakers’ roster is in dire need of perimeter weapons. Hield fills a
need, and his salary would only be on their books through the
Turner has had trouble staying healthy, but he's been extremely
productive when he's available. Turner has proven that he’s one of
the best rim protectors in basketball, averaging 2.5 blocks over
the last four seasons. Paired next to Davis, who is more
comfortable playing the 4, Turner’s defense and floor-spacing
acumen would provide a balanced frontcourt attack. Only 26 years
old, Turner could become a long-term fixture alongside Davis in the
frontcourt, as the Lakers would own his Bird rights going
The Lakers’ biggest needs are three-point shooting and defensive
versatility. Hield and Turner would emphatically check both boxes,
and their projected rotation certainly looks more appealing.
Starters: LeBron James, Buddy Hield, Talen Horton-Tucker,
Anthony Davis, Myles Turner
Bench: Kendrick Nunn, Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker IV, Troy
Brown Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson, Stanley Johnson, Thomas Bryant,
As evidence by the larger bench mob, this deal would provide Los
Angeles with instant relief — consolidating a deeper rotation.
Losing Westbrook is a net-positive in this situation, because Hield
and Turner help address needs while allowing LeBron to run the show
as pseudo-point guard.
How exactly should the Lakers and Pacers meet in the middle in
these trade talks? If the Lakers are balking on including an
unprotected first-round pick in 2029, would the Pacers relent on
protections possibly up to top-8? Would Indiana be willing to toss
in veteran playmaker TJ McConnell to push this pick into
unprotected territory? Packaging McConnell with Hield and Tuner
would make this three-for-one deal a nearly identical salary
Indiana is the rare team that would feel comfortable taking on
the Westbrook contract, simply because he would never suit up for
them. Armed with $31 million in cap space after their failed
pursuit of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, the Pacers can easily
absorb Westbrook’s salary. And as they tear the roster down to its
foundation and rebuild around Tyrese Haliburton and No. 6 overall
pick Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana is nowhere close to competing for
a playoff spot. Allowing Hield and Turner the opportunity to play
on a title contender also opens up more playing time for
prioritized members of their young core like Chris Duarte and
Looking ahead to next offseason, the Pacers project to have over
$70 million in cap space if they move Hield’s contract. Also, like
the Utah Jazz, Indiana is currently slated to have at least three
first-round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. Moving Turner and Hield
for picks could also help Indiana in the tank race for Victor
Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. With some lottery luck, they could
land one of these potential superstars and usher in the next great
era of Pacers basketball.
If the Pacers traded Turner and Hield for Westbrook (and then
bought him out), they would have the perfect lineup for developing
their young guys — and tanking.
Starters: Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte, Bennedict
Mathurin, Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson
Bench: Andrew Nembhard, TJ McConnell, Aaron Nesmith, Terry
Taylor, Oshae Brissett, Goga Bitadze, Daniel Theis
Indiana is in the perfect spot to be aggressive when it comes to
salary dumps. With cap flexibility over the next two summers until
Haliburton is due for a massive pay raise, the Pacers can continue
to stockpile future assets and kick the can down the road as their
young core continues to develop together. This trade for Westbrook
is a prime example where Indiana can take advantage, because those
first-round picks from Los Angeles could be very valuable
down the road.
Talks between the Lakers and Pacers have stalled, so it remains
to be seen whether negotiations will pick back up. The next steps
will be critical in order to re-ignite this potential pathway for
It’s a tough pill to swallow for Westbrook and the Lakers, but
he’s a negative asset at this stage of his illustrious career. The
best course of action seems to be finally ending this marriage, and
the rebuilding Pacers provide the ideal launchpad to change
direction for good.