Going into the offseason, a Russell Westbrook trade appeared inevitable on the heels of a tumultuous Los Angeles Lakers season defined by injuries and Westbrook’s underwhelming performing. Westbrook’s rigid approach to his on-court play style and his role within the Laker roster made him a cumbersome fit and completely torpedoed his trade value. The former MVP and his $47 million salary were no longer an asset to a contending team nor a young team looking for a veteran mentor.
A Westbrook trade would presumably require Los Angeles to give up their 2027 and 2029 first-round draft picks. But despite that, Westbrook getting moved still felt inevitable, especially after the Lakers acquired his longtime nemesis Patrick Beverley. And on Friday, it seemed like the team took another step in that direction by signing Dennis Schroder to a 1-year deal.
However, The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Jovan Buha report that a Westbrook deal is no longer imminent, in part because the Lakers would like to hold onto their draft ammo unless a specific sort of deal comes along.
Yes, those are the same picks that so many people expected them to give up as part of a Westbrook trade that had once seemed so inevitable but which ultimately never happened. According to a high-level Lakers source, their refusal to do Westbrook deals with Indiana and Utah that have been discussed in various capacities for months has everything to do with this hopeful vision for their future beyond this season.
As uncomfortable as this Westbrook experience has been — and might yet still be — this best-case scenario outlook is the driving force behind their surprising choice to pass up chances to part ways with Westbrook. In the absence of a deal they truly believe returns them to title-contender status, sources say, Westbrook is highly likely to remain.
This would present quite the challenge for new coach Darvin Ham to balance the guard rotation between, Westbrook, Beverley, and Schroeder. Would Westbrook be willing to come off the bench, or sit during crunch time? That’s not something he’s welcomed, but Ham may have no choice but to take that course of action.
From a macro view, this is a prudent decision by Laker management that could allow them to build a proper championship team next season. But this roster dynamic is quite the burden to place on a first-time head coach in Ham. LeBron James may have signed an extension, but he does not have a reputation for patience. If the Lakers face any adversity early in the season, perhaps the Westbrook situation could go back to square one.