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The Los Angeles Lakers have had more than half of the 2021-22 NBA season to get out of their funk.
The fact that they haven’t yet suggests that this issue might need an external fix.
But with so much of their cap space tied to three colossal contracts – held by LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook – there’s no simple path to follow until Thursday’s trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET.
For the Lakers to solve any of their problems, creativity is needed. How could they do it? Well, we pull out the crystal ball to form three maturity predictions for purple and gold.
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If Westbrook hasn’t done anything else this season, he has at least challenged the idea that there are no untradeable players in the NBA.
His volumes seem decent (18.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists), but they’re stripped of all their effectiveness. Move the lens to his forward metrics and you’ll find some of the worst ratings of his career. His minus-1.3 plus/minus box is the lowest he has ever displayed. His 15.2 efficiency rating is the worst of his career. His win shares of 0.041 per 48 minutes are his lowest since his rookie year.
Those ratings are all troubling in a vacuum, but they become fatal flaws when attached to his towering financial numbers: a $44.2 million salary for this season, plus a $47.1 million player option. dollars for the next. Teams would have a hard time simply building those pay rates into their budget, let alone doing so voluntarily while parting with whatever the Lakers might want.
The basketball gods could theoretically arrange another Westbrook trade for John Wall, but the Houston Rockets would want Los Angeles’ 2027 first-round pick in the trade, according to Marc Stein. Even though the Lakers might want to get rid of Westbrook, it’s a monstrous price to pay for someone who hasn’t adapted this season and has only played 72 games since the start of 2018-19.
Westbrook isn’t going anywhere.
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The Lakers were forced into a decision last offseason when Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso entered free agency. They opted to pay the former and let the latter tie to the Chicago Bulls.
The rationale, it seems, was that the Lakers prioritized Horton-Tucker’s theoretical advantage, stemming in large part from his age (21) and high-level ability.
This season, however, those flashes are getting fewer and fewer. His fire rates have dropped and nothing in his stat line is obvious. And with him no longer on a rookie contract but on a three-year, $30.8 million pact, his growing pains aren’t so easily forgiven.
All of which indicates that LA bought him big this week and almost certainly did something with the third-year swingman. It won’t yield the comeback the Lakers were surely hoping for when they thought they saw rising star potential in Horton-Tucker, but a rotation-ready two-way player is probably enough to get a handshake deal from the Lakers at this point. .
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The Lakers operate on the league’s most extreme championship or bust ranking scale. While other teams may have invested as much in their current cores, none are following the lead of a 37-year-old like LA is doing with James.
So it’s reasonable to expect the Lakers to put all their best trade chips on the table this week. There aren’t many, but their 2027 first-round pick should be of interest to someone, especially since James should be long gone from the Lakers locker room by then.
LA won’t throw the pick in any deal—as we said, moving it for John Wall makes no sense— but he also probably knows he can’t demand a king’s ransom either.
The Lakers have shopped around for a future first, Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn, but “nobody’s biting yet,” according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. It certainly won’t be the package that brings in a Jerami Grant guy, but if it’s enough for Eric Gordon, LA probably signs the trade.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.