The Los Angeles Lakers will likely be celebrating the historic achievement LeBron James managed to accomplish on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as he officially became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. But for the Lakers themselves, the more important issue that arose in this game was that despite James pouring in 38 points, they still managed to fall to the Thunder.
When the luster of James’ accomplishment wears off, the Lakers will find themselves in a tough spot moving forward. They have struggled mightily throughout the season, and with the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, the pressure will be on the front office to make some sort of high-profile move to turn things around.
While bringing in new players is important, unloading toxic ones is also something that may need to be done. And over the past week or so, it’s becoming clear that one player who keeps popping up in trade rumors needs to be dealt by the Lakers. Let’s take a look at who that player is and why Los Angeles needs to pull off this last minute move.
Lakers last minute trade: Unload Russell Westbrook
It’s no secret to anyone who follows the NBA that the Lakers’ decision to trade for Russell Westbrook was a massive mistake. Ever since the end of the previous campaign, Los Angeles has been working as hard as possible to get Westbrook off of their roster. And with the trade deadline right around the corner, it feels like it’s time for the Lakers to go all in and move Westbrook.
I say go all in because at this point, any deal involving Westbrook is likely going to have to involve trading their only two remaining tradeable first round draft picks. Westbrook has a ton of money on his contract this season, and while he’s a free agent after the upcoming season, he isn’t good enough to draw a significant return on his own. This means additional assets are going to have to be added in.
The Lakers could just wait until the end of the season to move on from Westbrook, but they are facing a significant amount of pressure to make a big deal at the deadline, especially after missing out on Kyrie Irving. That could force them to move Westbrook and draft picks in an effort to bring back a player who is capable of helping this team go on a playoff run this season.
Combine that pressure with Westbrook’s latest antics, and it makes a lot of sense to cut bait with him now and hope that you can find someone else to come in and help this team. Westbrook’s brother, Ray, has been firing shots at the Lakers on social media for the past week or so, and Westbrook had a public blowout with Phil Handy in their loss to the Thunder.
It’s fairly clear that Westbrook hasn’t been a fit on the court for Los Angeles this season (15.9 PPG, 7.5 APG, 6.2 RPG, 41.7 FG%) even in his new role that has him coming off the bench. If Westbrook is creating issues on and off the court, what’s the point of having him on the roster at this point?
Truth be told, it probably makes more sense for the Lakers to simply hold onto Westbrook and let him leave at the end of the season, but the real problem the front office is dealing with is saving public face. Heck, James just publicly complained about the front office’s lack of desire to build a winner around him. That’s not exactly a good look for this team.
It’s not hard to see, even on the outside, that Westbrook’s standing in the Lakers locker room isn’t the best, and keeping him past the trade deadline would be catastrophic. Los Angeles has to be solely focused on keeping their top two stars in James and Anthony Davis happy, and right now, it seems like neither one of them is. Things aren’t going to change if Westbrook sticks around.
The Lakers have backed themselves into a corner, and with the deadline swiftly approaching, they don’t have many options. Trading Westbrook isn’t a particularly good move, but they can maximize their championship chances by attaching both of their tradeable first-rounders in an effort to get another star to pair up with James and Davis.
If they don’t move Westbrook, though, there will be plenty of questions surrounding the future of this team (not that there aren’t already). James can’t get traded this season, but would he look to force his way off the team if they don’t move Westbrook and fail to make any major upgrades at the deadline? Who knows, but the easiest way to potentially avoid that scenario would involve Westbrook getting moved ahead of the trade deadline in an effort to bring back another player who can help James and Davis in the way that he is currently unable to.