The Los Angeles Lakers have been in the news constantly over the last few weeks for all the wrong reasons.
Recent reports claim:
The Lakers lost a spirited battle against the Miami Heat two nights ago on the road, dropping them to one game under .500, ensuring the drama will continue. The Purple and Gold have legit causes for their lackluster play.
Anthony Davis has missed 17 games in a row with a sprained MCL. LeBron James sat out nearly a quarter of the season with an abdominal strain, and Kendrick Nunn has yet to lace them up this season.
Still, in Los Angeles, where it’s championship or bust, Lakers management has no time for excuses. Some type of shakeup is coming. Maybe it’ll be a blockbuster trade or perhaps a minor tweak.
Below we’ll cover the five most realistic trade options for the Los Angeles Lakers at this moment.
The Minnesota Timberwolves Acquire A New Point Guard
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Russell Westbrook
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley
If you’re an NBA fan and haven’t been meditating in a cave for the last two months, you know things have gone sideways for Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles. The narrative on the Lakers’ new starting point guard has twisted and morphed into an ever-growing monster, seemingly out of control, with a mind of its own. Once a player’s storyline reaches these heights, it’s hard to bring logic and clarity to his performance.
Russell Westbrook has struggled this season in La La Land; there’s no doubt about that. The thing is: Westbrook’s fit on the Lakers is horrible. The Purple and Gold already have the best playmaker in the league in LeBron James. They don’t need Brody’s drive and kick game, and the redundancy is killing them.
Since 2009, Russell Westbrook has made the playoffs every year but one. Last season, he helped push a Washington Wizards squad that finished their previous campaign a miserable 25-47 into the postseason behind a monster stat line of 22.2 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 11.7 APG.
The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason in what feels like forever, and this season sit in seventh place in the Western Conference with a 23-23 record. The Timberwolves could use a change, and while Russell Westbrook fits on the Lakers like an elephant in a tiny cage, he’s perfect for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves feature Karl-Anthony Towns, the best three-point shooting center in the league (40.8 3P% off 5.4 shots per game), and one of the top young shooting wings with Anthony Edwards (37.2 3P% off 8.7 shots per game). Russell Westbrook is sixth in the NBA in drives this season at 17.5 per contest, and he has an impressive 47.9 pass percentage off his slashes to the rack. Westbrook would form a perfect symbiotic relationship with Towns and Edwards. He’d help create open looks from beyond the arc for his Wolves teammates, and they’d help spread the floor for Mr. Triple-Double, giving him room to attack the paint. And on the less fun end, Minnesota starts Patrick Beverley, a defensive warlock who would allow Westbrook to hide on the opposing team’s worst offensive player.
On the Lakers’ side of things, they wouldn’t want to take on Malik Beasley’s contract. He’s owed $14.4 million this year, $15.5 million next year, and $16.5 in 2023-24 (team option), which is way too much money to pay a 3-and-D wing shooting 34.9% from deep while playing ho-hum defense. Beasley’s contract is the price of doing business, though, and the Purple and Gold’s desire to swap Russell Westbrook for D’Angelo Russell is obvious.
Russell is a solid all-around shooter. He’s hitting 46.7% from 10 to 16 feet, 41.5% from 16 feet to the three-point line, and 35.4% from beyond the arc off 8.6 attempts per game. He’d help create the space LeBron James and Anthony Davis need to make the Lakers’ offense really come to life. Russell’s also a better defender than most people think. He has a solid 43.7 defensive field goal percentage, and he’s averaging 2.0 deflections per game. He’d fit much better than Westbrook in head coach Frank Vogel’s defense-first ethos.
The Boston Celtics Upgrade Their Offense
Boston Celtics Receive: Russell Westbrook
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Al Horford, Marcus Smart, a 2023 second-round pick (via Portland)
This deal would instantly upgrade the Lakers’ defense while hurting their offense.
After suiting up for only 28 disappointing games last season in Oklahoma due to injury, Al Horford has had a bit of a renaissance this year for the Celtics. He’s already played 39 contests as a starter, and although he’s slowed down some at age 35, he’s still a better-than-average defender.
He’s anchored the Celtics 5th ranked D, providing solid rim protection and post defense. Overall Horford has defended 15.3 field goal attempts per game, and he’s held his assignments to 3.3% under their normal shooting average.
On offense, Horford has struggled. He takes nearly half his shots from beyond the arc where he’s hitting only 28.4% of his attempts on the season. His other shooting numbers are solid. He’s hitting 76.4% at the rim, 48.9% from 3 to 10 feet, and 63.0% from 10 to 16 feet. Still, teams have slowly begun to lay off Horford on the perimeter, daring him to shoot from deep while crowding the Celtics All-Star duo, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Marcus Smart has the reputation of a lockdown defender, but this season at least, he hasn’t lived up to his billing. He ranks 77th among all guards in defensive field goal percentage (20 games played) at 44.7%. And it’s not like Celtics head coach Ime Udoka tasks Smart with guarding the opposing squad’s best offensive wing. That job typically goes to Jaylen Brown.
Smart still goes hard on the less glamorous side. He ranks in the 95th percentile with a 2.9 steal percentage and he averages 3.2 deflections per game. He’d instantly become the Lakers’ best guard defender with his combination of size and motor.
His shooting numbers on offense are horrible.
Have a look at his ranged shooting numbers compiled by Dunks and Threes:
Rim: 56% (32nd percentile)
Mid: 37% (31st percentile)
3PT: 30% (21st percentile)
The Celtics are 20th in the league in offense. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are constantly forced to work within little to no space because Horford and Smart can’t spread the floor effectively. If the Lakers made this deal, they would transfer the Celtics spacing problems to LA.
Here’s the thing though: In 2019-20, the year the Lakers won the title, they finished the season ranked 21st in three-point shooting at 34.9%. They showed they could win it all behind LBJ and AD’s brilliance and a stifling D.
Do the Lakers want to take on Marcus Smart’s $77 million contract extension that runs through the 2026 season? No, that contract will be onerous toward the end.
Do the Lakers want to take on the one-and-a-half years left on Al Horford’s contract? Of course not, he’s not worth the near $45 million guaranteed cash he’s owed.
It’s not working with Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers are under .500, they have the 16th rated defense, and 24th ranked offense. They need a change, and acquiring Horford and Smart will at least give them an identity as a physically imposing defensive squad.
Things aren’t working in Boston either. The Celtics have a record of 24-24. Despite having Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the squad, their offense has vacillated from ugly to an unwatchable display of one-on-one play. Beantown might have the worst group of playmaking guards in the league in 2021-22. Marcus Smart is their leading assist man at 5.3 dimes per game.
Marcus Smart is a solid player, but when he’s your go-to setup man, you’re in huge trouble. The Celtics need a genuine point guard who can drive and kick and also swing the ball to open shooters. That’s where Russell Westbrook could step in.
Say what you want about Westbrooks turnovers and shooting woes, but you have to admit he’s one of the best playmakers in the league. Last season he led the league in assists for the Washington Wizards at 11.7 per game. This season he’s 8th in the association in dimes with 7.8 per contest despite playing with one of the best passers ever in LeBron James.
Russell Westbrook would help launch the Celtics offense into the top-10 with his ability to get in the lane and pass the ball.
The Atlanta Hawks Shake Things Up In The Backcourt
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic
The idea of Talen Horton-Tucker is tantalizing. He’s a 6-4 guard with a 7-1 wingspan who at times looks like a budding star. The reality isn’t so pretty, though.
THT is scoring 10.6 PPG this season on 41.8% from the field and 24.7% from three, along with 3.6 RPG and 2.7 APG. Dunks and Threes rank him 353rd in defense, and overall the Lakers have been 1.7 points worse per 100 possessions with Horton-Tucker on the floor.
Do THT’s 2021-22 numbers mean he’s a bust? Of course not. He’s 21-years-old. Over the next couple of seasons, his flashes of potential could gel. He could become an All-Star.
Kendrick Nunn is another player the Lakers would hate to give up on. But, again, the idea of Nunn and his 14.6 PPG and 38.1% three-point stroke from last year are all fans in Hollywood have to go on. He’s missed the entire year with a bone bruise in his knee and, after a setback last week, has no timetable to return.
The Purple and Gold’s problem is that LeBron James, 37, is playing like a top-3 player, yet the Lakers have a sub-.500 record. They don’t have time to wait for Horton-Tucker to develop or see if Nunn will play at a high level in the second half when he returns from injury. They can’t waste one of LBJ’s last MVP-type seasons.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, like most of the players on the Hawks, is in a funk this year. He’s averaging 12.0 points per contest with a 35.4 three-point percentage while playing uninspired D. Still, he’s only a year off from hitting 43.8% from deep and playing inspired defense for an Atlanta team that made it to the Eastern Conference finals.
Bogdanovich probably isn’t an upgrade over THT in the long term, but he’s a better player this season. He’d fit perfectly next to LBJ and AD in the Lakers’ starting lineup, helping spread the floor with his jumper and by taking some of the pressure off Westbrook with his playmaking ability.
The Atlanta Hawks are 21-25 this season and often have played some of the laziest defense the league’s seen in the past half-decade. They need a revamp.
Horton-Tucker would provide much-needed instant energy off the bench or in the starting lineup for the Hawks. And Kendrick Nunn, upon his return, would be an excellent backup point guard to Trae Young.
The Portland Trail Blazers Get A Young Building Block
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Norman Powell
Norman Powell is a great offensive role player. He’s averaging 18.6 points per game this season while hitting 39.9% from deep. The Trail Blazers certainly love his production on the fun end of the court. But, he’s 6-3, and when he plays in the starting lineup next to 6-2 Damian Lillard and 6-3 CJ McCollum, they form the worst defensive trio in the league, evidenced by their 28th ranked overall DEFRTG.
The Portland Trail Blazers have spent years playing an exciting brand of offensive-first basketball only to get trounced early from the playoffs, and this year with a 20-26 record, they almost certainly won’t even make the postseason. It’s time to bring in a couple of players with more size and defensive acumen.
Talen Horton-Tucker is a massive guard with top-10 defensive wing potential. He’d instantly become the Trail Blazers best ballhawk.
Kendrick Nunn spent his first two years in the league playing under Erik Spoelstra and his defense-first mantra. Nunn has learned the ins and outs of playing solid D and would be a boon for the Trail Blazers off the bench.
If the Lakers landed Norman Powell, they could refurbish their entire rotation.
Frank Vogel could start Avery Bradley and Norman Powell in the backcourt. Trevor Ariza and LeBron James could suit up at the forward positions, and Anthony Davis could play center.
This lineup would offer better shooting around LBJ and AD. Avery Bradley (39.2 3P%) and Norman Powell (39.9 3P%) are both excellent marksmen.
On the less fun end, Norman Powell, while over-matched at the small forward position on the Trail Blazers, could play his preferred position of shooting guard and Trevor Ariza could take on the bulkier wings. Avery Bradley would continue to hound opposing 1’s and LBJ and AD would round out the defense with their excellent overall play.
Russell Westbrook could then come off the bench and run the show next to Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard in an oversized second unit, or with Austin Reaves in a small-ball lineup.
The Houston Rockets Trade John Wall For Russell Westbrook
Houston Rockets Receive: Russell Westbrook
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: John Wall
According to Mark Stein, the Houston Rockets are open to trading John Wall for Russell Westbrook, but they’re looking for the Lakers 2027 first-round pick to consummate the deal.
That’s never going to happen.
Lakers management will not take on John Wall, a player who hasn’t suited up all season, in exchange for Westbrook and one of their last remaining first-round picks this decade.
The Lakers could end up brokering a straight-up Westbrook/Wall deal with the Houston Rockets.
Russell Westbrook has said all the right things to the media about his desire to do what’s necessary to help the Purple and Gold win. Still, we do not know what’s happening behind closed doors. Westbrook could be throwing daily temper tantrums in practice and at film sessions. Organizations are adept at keeping bad situations hidden from the public, but one player with a powerful personality and a chip on his shoulder can throw the entire locker room out of whack.
Suppose things have already soured with Westbrook, or they eventually turn ugly. In that case, the Lakers might be willing to trade him for John Wall–an athlete who’s not as good, not in game shape, and not an impact player anymore–simply as an addition by subtraction move.
What’s the Houston Rockets’ motivation to make this type of deal?
It’s simple: John Wall and Russell Westbrook each have massive $47 million player options for next season. Houston management knows there is no way in hell John Wall is opting out of that type of money. He’s already agreed to take off the 2021-22 season; why wouldn’t he do the same next year? But if the Rockets acquire Westbrook this year and promptly bench him, and threaten the same fate the following season, he could say, “I’ve made over $288 million just in NBA salary, I’m not going to waste a year and a half of my prime sitting on my sofa.”
If there’s anybody in the NBA who would opt out of $47 million, it’s the uber-confident Russell Westbrook, who’s always played the way he wants to, dressed the way he wants to, and lived the way he wants to. There’s a chance he could pass on more money than you and I will ever sniff in our lifetimes and sign with a contender on the cheap.
If Westbrook were to opt-out, the Rockets would be off the hook for nearly $50 million, accelerating their rebuild by a year and giving their fanbase fresh hope for a strong future.
This Will Be An Interesting Month In Los Angeles
The Lakers have an MVP candidate in LeBron James who’s fought father time better than nearly any other athlete in the world (shout out to Tom Brady), but he’s not an alien. He will slow down some time. The Purple and Gold can’t waste one of LBJ’s last elite years sputtering around .500.
It’s a near certainty Lakers management will find some type of trade.
They could go a couple of ways.
GM Rob Pelinka might find a trade partner for Russell Westbrook. Or he could keep his faith in the Purple and Gold’s core and make only fringe deals to try to improve around the edges.
The trade deadline is less than a month away, and as it draws nearer, it will be a fascinating time in Los Angeles.