Much has been made about the Los Angeles Lakers standing pat at the trade deadline despite some obvious struggles, and the discontent reportedly extends behind closed doors with the team.
The biggest topic is what to do, or should have done, with point guard Russell Westbrook, who hasn’t proven to be the kind of player the Lakers need alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers acquired Westbrook last offseason in exchange for a bevy of players and have since watched his production and efficiency go down pretty much across the board.
Los Angeles reportedly pursued a trade to deal Westbrook to the Houston Rockets at the deadline in exchange for John Wall, another aging point guard on a massive contract. That deal fell apart when the Lakers refused to include their 2027 first-round pick in the trade.
James and Davis’ agents at Klutch Sports, who also represent Wall, apparently weren’t happy that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka didn’t go through the deal, according to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus.
According to multiple NBA sources, Klutch is not happy with Pelinka. The sentiment has long percolated, but it reached a boil when Pelinka refused to trade Westbrook and a future first-round pick (likely 2027) for Houston Rockets guard and Klutch client John Wall.
The move didn’t make sense for the Lakers from a basketball standpoint as a significant upgrade over Westbrook, even though Wall averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists per game last year. Wall hasn’t played this season, with the Rockets focusing on developing younger players. From the Klutch point of view, the Lakers would get their client out of a bad situation in Houston and undo the Westbrook mistake.
At this point, it’s worth noting a few things.
No. 1, and most importantly, Wall probably wasn’t going to fix everything for the Lakers. He’d probably be a better fit than Westbrook by virtue of not being a historically awful outside shooter, but the Lakers would still have had an aging player, and a more injury-prone one at that, who is really only valuable when he has the ball in his hands. That rarely works well when the Lakers, as constructed, are pretty much always going to want James running the show on offense.
Paying $44 million (and $47 million next year) to a player who was never going to be his best self with James on the floor is the issue with Westbrook, and it would have been an issue with Wall.
Wall was also no guarantee to have been any better than Westbrook, because he hasn’t played at all this season. Getting him out of Houston would have been good for him and his agents, likely less so for the Lakers.
The other awkward fact is that James and Klutch were the ones who wanted Westbrook last offseason. The Lakers reportedly had a deal lined up for sharpshooter Buddy Hield, then with the Sacramento Kings, but James and Davis reportedly wanted Westbrook, so Westbrook became a Laker. A tale as old as time.
Add all of that up and the sum doesn’t seem to reflect well on Klutch, who are apparently mad at an executive for not erasing a move they pushed for by acquiring their client, who stranded on a rebuilding team because he happens to have the only contract in the NBA with a worse value than Westbrook.
LeBron praised Thunder GM during All-Star weekend
It might not be a coincidence that we learned LeBron James’ agents are reportedly angry with the Lakers’ general manager right after James himself went out of his way to praise Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti during All-Star weekend.
Read into that what you will.
What is the end game for LeBron James and the Lakers?
All of this is very interesting when you consider that the rumblings around James’ upcoming free agency have already begun.
James is currently on track to hit free agency after next season, in the summer of 2023. He could sign an extension this offseason, but that doesn’t seem likely given how things are going in Los Angeles right now and because of one very large complicating factor.
In the past, James has been very clear he wants to play on an NBA team alongside his son Bronny one day, and he outright said that’s how he plans to end his career earlier this week. the 17-year-old Bronny is currently draft-eligible in 2024, three seasons for now, but he could arrive one year earlier if the NBA does away with its one-and-done rule, as has been discussed over the last few years.
Bronny James is currently listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals, so he’s not a slam-dunk NBA prospect right now, but Pincus reports some NBA executives believe him to be a second-round draft prospect. Of course, that value could skyrocket if teams believe drafting Bronny means adding LeBron on a cheap deal (James did say he’d do “whatever it takes” to play with his son). So it seems possible, if not likely barring a change in either player’s status, that a prospective playoff team would draft Bronny in the first and view him as a throw-in for the bigger move of adding an NBA legend.
There are obviously a lot of balls in the air, but that tends to happen with James’ future plans. For now, we just know that his Lakers contract expires at the same time as Westbrook’s, and that’s something the team will likely have to change to keep their star happy in the short term.