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Report: Lakers had “covert interest” in talking Westbrook trade earlier in season

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 4: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on January 4, 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)

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Russell Westbrook’s fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis was a topic before this season even tipped off. The Lakers won the 2020 championship surrounding LeBron and AD with solid defensive players and good shooters to space the floor. Rob Pelinka changed that up, and his big move — at LeBron’s urging — was to trade for Westbrook, who is neither an elite defender nor a good floor spacer (30% from 3). Westbrook was supposed to lift Los Angeles up while LeBron was resting or injured, but the Lakers have a -7.1 net rating when Westbrook is on the court and LeBron is off.

That lack of fit had the Lakers at least doing a little work to see if a Westbrook trade was possible, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

All of which explains why sources say the Lakers showed some covert interest in discussing a possible Westbrook trade with rival executives earlier this season. A deal appears extremely unlikely before the Feb. 15 trade deadline, if only because his deal that was once seen by so many as untradeable is such a massive obstacle.

To be fair, nearly every player in the league ends up in some level of trade talks because GMs want to gauge the value of the players they have. Westbrook is no exception; there are only two players that the Lakers would not trade.

While one should never say never with this league, a Westbrook trade is next to impossible. The reason is his contract, which pays him $44.2 million this season with a player option for $47.1 million next season (is there any doubt he picks it up?). The only way to make a trade work would be for the Lakers to throw in sweeteners such as promising young players or picks to get a team to take on Westbrook, but the Lakers don’t have those to trade (they gave up their trade assets to get Westbrook, and they can’t move a first-round pick before 2027-28). To use an easy example, the Lakers could talk to the Rockets about a John Wall swap, it works financially, but why would Houston do it unless the Lakers threw in picks or players? Guys the Lakers don’t have.

Los Angeles needs to figure it out with Westbrook.

The Lakers’ problem is that Westbrook is what he has been the past few seasons — he scores, he puts up numbers, but he’s inefficient doing so, and this season his turnovers are up — but the role he is being asked to play is different. Westbrook isn’t a No. 1 option who can be afforded some missed shots and turnovers because he is creating for others; when the Lakers are right he is option No. 3. That player has to work off the ball a lot and be efficient, and that was never going to happen.

But neither is a trade, so the Lakers need to find a way to make it all work.