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Latest Westbrook trade rumors highlight challenges of any Russ trade

Los Angeles Lakers v LA Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 3: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the LA Clippers on February 3, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

One of the reasons for the growing sense the Lakers may have to run it back with Russell Westbrook — the reason new coach Darvin Ham has been so direct challenging the former MVP — is there is no real trade market for him. His trade value is at an all-time low, and the Lakers don’t have a lot of options.

Two Westbrook trade rumors/scenarios floating around the past 24 hours shed light on just how difficult it will be to make a Westbrook deal.

One comes from ESPN’s draft guru Jonathan Givony, who mentioned it on The Lowe Post podcast, and of course it got aggregated and discussed: Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker and a 2026/27 first-round pick to the Indiana Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon. Givony said there was no interest from Indiana.

First, the only way to make that trade work financially is for Buddy Hield to be paired with Brogdon heading back to Los Angeles. So the Pacers would send out two starting-quality players to get back Westbrook — who would not be happy in Indiana, would be taking the ball out of Tyrese Haliburton’s hands, and would be an expensive buyout — plus Horton-Tucker, who did not take a big step forward last season. Oh, and a pick that’s four-or-five years out. Of course the Pacers said no to this, even in a rebuild that is not enough of a return. They can do better with other Brogdon and maybe Hield trades.

Then there is Kyrie Irving.

The Lakers were mentioned as a potential destination for Irving in Monday’s “agent tries to gain leverage” spin on the stuck negotiations between the Nets and Irving.

It’s nearly impossible to put together an Irving to the Lakers trade that works in the real world. First, to facilitate a trade to Los Angeles, Irving would have to opt into the $36.5 million final year of his contract, which is nearly $6 million less than the max available if he opts out and re-signs. If Westbrook extends off the final year of this contract, he will leave more money on the table (although, as he showed with his vaccination stance last season, he will walk away from money).

If Westbrook opts in, the Nets have no motivation — outside a disgruntled Irving — to work with the Lakers to get a deal done. The Lakers would have to make it very worth their while.

Technically a Westbrook and two first-round picks for Irving trade works on paper, but why would the Nets do that? For all the drama and challenges, Irving is a much better (and younger) player right now than Westbrook. The Nets expect to contend next season, and they need to keep Kevin Durant happy, and that straight-up swap makes the Nets demonstrably worse and frustrates Durant, while those two picks are too far out to be helpful (the Nets could trade them, but the return would be less than many fans expect). The Nets could work with Oklahoma City on draft night to take on the Westbrook contract, but what is the sweetener for the Thunder? They will want a couple of first round picks, and the Lakers are already sending theirs to Brooklyn to get the Nets to play along.

There is a scenario — thrown out by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor — where the Hornets take on Westbrook and send out Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward to Brooklyn (getting longer contracts off their books), and the Lakers land Irving. There’s also a scenario where Rozier and Gordon go to the Lakers directly to provide depth Los Angeles needs, but Los Angeles doesn’t want those multi-year deals on their books, either. The Hornets also need to ask themselves if they want Westbrook taking the ball out of LaMelo Ball’s hands? Is Westbrook a fit in Charlotte?

All of these options are incredible longshots. As is Irving opting out in Brooklyn to play for the Lakers for the mid-level exception (with some moves they could get down below the tax and have a $10.4 million mid-level to offer, but that is far, far below what he makes just opting in).

Irving likely re-signs with the Nets on a shorter deal than he would prefer (or maybe with games played incentives to reach the max in the later years).

The Lakers will keep looking, but in the end, Westbrook could be back in Los Angeles to start next season because with his salary and the Lakers’ lack of tradable assets, there are just no good options to find a deal.