NBA Trade Rumors: Should the Lakers Deal for Russell Westbrook?

Jan 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook dunks the ball during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook dunks the ball during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

With Kevin Durant gone from the Thunder, Russell Westbrook might be available for a trade—but should the Lakers be looking to make a deal?

The Oklahoma City Thunder received no compensation for losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in NBA free agency. A year from now, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will also be an unrestricted free agent. Speculation has run rampant that OKC might soon attempt to trade Westbrook to avoid coming up empty again in 2017 and leaving the franchise in a dire spot.

As has been mentioned by numerous Lakers fans, a potential landing spot is in Los Angeles, where he grew up as a Lakers fan and starred for the UCLA Bruins in college.

Current day fans of the team are salivating at the thought of Westbrook wearing the purple and gold, and symbolically accepting the torch from Kobe Bryant and leading the team back to the promised land of NBA titles. 

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However, this ignores the two biggest questions regarding Russell Westbrook and LA: how realistic is the idea that the Lakers might acquire him and what potential risks are involved?

It’s extremely difficult to measure Westbrook’s trade value because of his looming free agency. Even though he’s one of the top-10 NBA players, many if not most teams will view him as simply a one-year rental who will test the market next summer unless they’re able to secure a verbal agreement that he’ll re-sign.

That said, there is no incentive for Westbrook to agree to a contract extension now, either with the Thunder or a new team. Actually, he has motivation not to do so as max contracts are based on number of years in the league. So following next season he will be eligible for more money while the salary cap once again increases.

The appeal of acquiring one of the league’s best and most exciting players is intoxicating, but the Lakers have to consider all aspects of such a trade.

For one, who would the Lakers have to trade to OKC to get a trade done for Russell Westbrook? Media conjecture suggests it would take two or more of the team’s highly-valued young players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

Moreover, how comfortable could LA be that they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term contract? It’s easy to assume that Westbrook wants to play in the area where he grew up, but who knows how much that would truly influence him to be there beyond just next season.

Then, of course, there’s always the possibility that the Lakers could sign him as a free agent next July without having to trade any part of their core now. However, they’d be competing against multiple rivals, including some that are already NBA contenders or could risk him having already been traded to give another team some sort of leverage.

Perhaps the most harrowing question, though, is how long can he keep playing the way he does without getting hurt. When will his athleticism start to fade? Will NBA longevity be a problem? Watch him in action, particularly on his drives to the basket, and notice how often he tumbles hard to the ground after releasing his shot. Is that conducive to his healthy lasting?

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There is no doubt that Westbrook is better than any current Laker is now, or maybe ever will be. But even if Russ was magically added to the current roster today without trading away anyone, the Lakers are still too young and raw to contend for next year’s title.

The team has assembled multiple high-potential young players, each of whom is under team control for several years, to try to build a winning team in the not-too-distant future. Management has shown by their actions that it is willing to be patient to let those players develop together and is particularly high on Ingram’s upside.

Is it worthwhile to deviate from that plan and take the risk that a year from now Westbrook will search for more immediate gratification on a team designed to compete right away? That is, of course, what other star players have done, like Durant, LeBron James, and LaMarcus Aldridge. After all, Lakers management and fans alike still remember the Dwight Howard fiasco.

It’s a tough call for Mitch Kupchak and the front office. He will undoubtably be roundly criticized by fans and media if he “allows” Russell Westbrook to be traded elsewhere. Yet he’d be grilled even worse if he breaks up the team’s nucleus and then has nothing to show for it if Westbrook walks away next July.

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As tantalizing as sounds to trade for Russell Westbrook, the cost and risk might just be too high. Or perhaps Kupchak and Sam Presti of the Thunder will engage in a long drawn-out hand of poker, negotiating a potential compromised deal months down the road that is palatable for both teams. Time will tell.