Westbrook has opted to remain a Laker for a whopping $47M… what now?

Russell Westbrook has opted in to his $47.1 million option for the 2022-23 season

Russell Westbrook has opted in to his $47.1 million option for the 2022-23 season
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LOS ANGELES — Timely Warning Crime Alert — Robbery.

Reported Offense: Robbery.

Date and Time of Occurrence: 06/28/2022, 7:54 a.m.

Suspect Description: Male, 33, 6’3”.

Repeat Offender: Yes.

Name: Russell Westbrook.

For the second straight season, Russell Westbrook can be accused of larceny. After opting in to his $47.1 million option for the 2022-23 season, he officially became one of the highest-paid players in all of basketball.

It was no surprise Westbrook opted in — he had 47 million reasons to do so. But with Westbrook officially under contract, the Lakers can start making calls on his behalf.

LeBron James is entering his 20th season in the NBA. He turns 38 in December. The Lakers can ill afford to waste another year of LeBron. They can’t waste another year of the LeBron James-Anthony Davis pairing, either. So GM Rob Pelinka has to be working the phones, buttering up every other general manager with the potential pieces to make a Westbrook trade work. And he has some options.

His first call should be to someone the Lakers know very well. Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak led the Lakers from 2000-2017. He won five titles with the team, before going into a full-on rebuild following Kobe Bryant’s retirement. In 2016, Kupchak infamously signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to massive contracts just minutes into the beginning of free agency, ultimately leading to his dismissal.

Kupchak landed on his feet, and, lucky enough for the Lakers, made a few similar mistakes he’s looking to undo in Charlotte.

In the 2020 offseason, Kupchak gave 30-year-old Gordon Hayward a 4-year, $120 million dollar contract. The next offseason, he re-signed Terry Rozier to a 4-year, $97 million dollar deal.

Now, with the 2022 emergence and upcoming restricted free agency of Miles Bridges, who had career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals, the Hornets want to unload some future money to lock him up.

Enter Westbrook’s expiring contract.

A trade centered around Hayward, Rozier and maybe another piece (Kelly Oubre Jr. or P.J. Washington) could provide the Lakers the depth they need around James and Davis. The Hornets have reportedly said they would attach a first-round pick to unload Hayward, so the Lakers may be able to push for that instead of an additional player.

The downside of this trade is the Lakers are taking on a ton of future money, committing to Rozier long term and Hayward for at least another year. It should improve the Lakers roster in the immediate, but if they want to take on future money, there may be a better option.

The Indiana Pacers are rebuilding. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in two years, and were swept in the first round the two years prior. They already traded two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis at last year’s trade deadline, and brought in a likely future All-Star in point guard Tyrese Haliburton. With Haliburton running the show, the Pacers are looking to ship out Malcolm Brogdon, who they have under contract for the next three seasons after agreeing to a contract extension last offseason.

The Pacers would also love to offload Buddy Hield’s two remaining years under contract, allowing them to embrace the rebuild and turn to the 2023 offseason with clean books.

A trade centered around Brogdon, Hield, and Westbrook would most likely cost the Lakers a first-round pick. And again, they would be taking on a ton of future money. But a core of Brogdon, Hield, James, and Davis has the potential to be a real contender for the remainder of James’ tenure in Los Angeles. Brogdon has career splits of 46.4 percent from the field, 37.6 percent from 3 and 88.1 percent from the free-throw line. Hield’s splits are 43 /39.8 / 86.5 in his six-year career.

Surrounding LeBron with shooters has always been the answer, and these two guys check that box. Brogdon, when healthy, is also an above-average perimeter defender, and has a knack for forcing turnovers.

The Lakers could then keep Davis at the 4 and sign a defensive anchor to play center. Or they can field a small-ball lineup with Davis at the 5, James at the 4 and a defensive-minded wing at the 3.

The Lakers’ final option is definitely the weirdest. Monday afternoon, Kyrie Irving announced he was opting into his $37 million player option with the Nets. While that removed the possibility of him opting out and signing the $6 million mid-level exception with the Lakers (was that ever truly a possibility?), the teams can still orchestrate a deal to get Irving in the Purple and Gold.

The trade would almost certainly have to involve a third or even fourth team, as the Nets have made it clear they don’t want Westbrook. But a team like the Thunder or Pistons — who have the cap space to take on Westbrook to recoup additional assets — could make this work.

This trade only works if Irving demands a trade to the Lakers and a reunion with LeBron. And his most recent tweets appeared to affirm his commitment to the Nets. But with Kyrie, you never truly know.

This trade may be the most unrealistic, but it would also be the move that turns the Lakers into instant title contenders for the 2023 season. So if wasting a year of LeBron was the last thing Pelinka wanted, then calling up Nets GM Sean Marks should be first on his list.

The Lakers can’t stand pat. They can’t stay the course this upcoming offseason. Another year of Westbrook would mean another year of mediocrity. And who knows how many years LeBron has left? The hiring of Bucks assistant Darvin Ham to be their head coach was a great start. But the Lakers must now surround him with players that give him a chance to succeed.

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