Forty-six games in, it’s clear the Russell Westbrook experiment didn’t work as intended.
The Los Angeles Lakers sit at just 23-23. Although that’s good enough for the seven-seed in the Western Conference, it’s far from acceptable given their high preseason expectations. Among several contributing factors to the disappointing record, Westbrook deserves a fair share of criticism.
Reports surfaced earlier this year claiming the Lakers were open to trading Westbrook. But given the exorbitant $91 million left on his deal between now and the end of next season, LA isn’t exactly being overwhelmed with interested buyers. But one team — the Houston Rockets — might be the savior LA desperately needs … but only if the price is right.
The Los Angeles Lakers would love to rid themselves of Russell Westbrook
If there’s one positive when it comes to Westbrook, it’s the fact he’s available. In a year where COVID-19 has affected countless players on every team, the 33-year-old has started all 46 games for the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers are surely thankful for Russ’ clean bill of health and perfect availability. But the praise stops there.
Westbrook joined LA with a decorated, Hall-of-Fame-caliber resume. With nine All-NBA selections, two scoring titles, and an MVP Award, the Lakers saw Russ as the perfect complement to stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Instead, his tenure has been marred by inconsistency, particularly when it comes to missed shots and turnovers.
Through 46 uneven contests, Westbrook is averaging 18.5 points on 43.3% shooting, the fourth-lowest percentage in his 14-year career. He’s also taking an inexplicable 3.5 threes per game and converting only 30.2% of them. Despite having nine triple-doubles, Russ’ offensive rating also sits at 100.0, making him a league-average player on offense.
But beyond the inefficiency and general momentum-killing, Westbrook’s contract has hamstrung the Lakers. The nine-time All-Star is earning $44 million this season, more than LeBron and AD, and has a $47 million player option for next season. Only Stephen Curry, James Harden, and John Wall are making more money this season.
The Houston Rockets might be the only team interested in Westbrook, but with a catch
Westbrook has been more headache than anything during his first and only season with LA. And if you were to poll his former teams, they would likely say they’re glad to have moved on from the talented-yet-frustrating guard.
So why are the Houston Rockets, Westbrook’s team from the 2019-20 season, suddenly thinking about a reunion?
In a column from Marc Stein on Substack, the Rockets are open to trading for Westbrook. The deal could see Westbrook exchanged for Wall, who’s making roughly around the same as the Lakers star. Ironically, it would be the second time they were traded for one another after the Rockets sent Russ to the Washington Wizards for Wall in 2020.
In all likelihood, the Rockets would then do the same thing with Westbrook they’re currently doing with Wall — paying him but not playing him.
However, it wouldn’t be as simple as swapping Westbrook for Wall and calling it a day. Houston knows it has leverage over the win-now Lakers. According to Stein, Houston would want LA’s 2027 first-round pick, its next available first-rounder available to trade.
While a first-round pick five years from now doesn’t seem steep, consider the Lakers’ roster. Currently, Davis is the only player signed past 2024, let alone 2027. With so much uncertainty surrounding them in the long run, that pick could actually end up being highly valuable.
LA ideally wants to keep any future firsts and package second-rounders instead. But if Houston holds firm in its demand for the ’27 pick, the Lakers will have to decide how badly they want to rid themselves of Westbrook.
A Russell Westbrook trade might be LA’s best, and only, option
Even at 23-23, the Lakers have no choice but to win now. LeBron has been incredible, but he’s also 37 years old. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue to be the driving force of the team beyond this season, which makes turning things around as soon as possible a priority.
The quickest way to do that is swallowing pride and sending Westbrook away.
It will hurt to admit acquiring Westbrook was a mistake. Doing so cost them valuable role players like Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma and prevented them from signing alternative options like DeMar DeRozan. But there is still time to salvage the season, and one way to do that might be swapping out Russ for Wall.
If the draft pick is the major holdup, it shouldn’t be. As pompous as this might sound, the esteemed Los Angeles Lakers will have no problem attracting talent. Unlike a small-market club, they need not rely on draft picks. So if Houston is adamant, it’s not the worst thing in the world to lose another first-rounder.
The Lakers are over halfway through this disappointing season. At this point, it’s safe to assume the Westbrook they see now is the same one they’re going to see three months from now in the playoffs (if they make it that far). No Anthony Davis return or Frank Vogel firing is going to change the fact that Brodie is a bad fit in Hollywood.
If the Rockets are indeed throwing the Lakers a lifeline, they should grab on for dear life.