According to Marc Stein, Westbrook's former team, the Houston Rockets, could be willing to re-acquire Russ in exchange for the exiled John Wall … if the Lakers include their 2027 first-round pick in the deal.
For the rebuilding Rockets, this stance makes sense. Houston is already paying Wall, 31, the same amount of money to not play for them. What's the difference if another declining former All-Star point guard over 30 fills that role instead — if the Rockets can squeeze a first-round pick out of it? (Remember LeBron will presumably have moved on by then, and the Lakers aren't exactly loaded with young talent nor firing on all cylinders in the front office. It could be a valuable pick.)
But does it make sense for Los Angeles?
Despite the Lakers' current standing (22-23, 8th in the West), flawed roster, and the uncertainty surrounding Frank Vogel's job, the goal for the 2021-22 season remains the same: win the championship. That's all that matters as long as LeBron is under contract and still an elite player. Even, say, a first-round upset and second-round elimination is meaningless.
Any trade the Lakers make before the Feb. 10 deadline has to be intended to improve their chances of winning the title this June. This is one of the trickiest aspects to any potential Westbrook deal, on top of his massive contract ($44 million this season, $47 million in 2022-33, same as Wall's): who can they feasibly acquire for the struggling guard that makes them better in the present?
Based on how #thisleague operates, no contract is truly untradable. If the Lakers believe trading Russ is addition by subtraction, it's not impossible to imagine Rob Pelinka (or Kurt Rambis, or Linda Rambis, or LeBron James, or Tim Miller, or Rich Paul, or Jeanie Buss, or whoever is actually running things) finding a rival GM willing to take on 17 months of Westbrook's salary to acquire draft compensation (ahem, Sam Presti.)
But if the Lakers aren't interested in salary dumping Westbrook, the Rockets may present their only viable trade partner.
The dilemma is evaluating John Wall. The five-time All-Star hasn't played this season as the Rockets pay him to stay away. In 40 games last season, he averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists with Westbrook-ian shooting percentages: 40.4% from the field, 31.7% from three-point range. He missed the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign with an Achilles tear, played 32 games the season prior, and 41 the season before that. His last full, All-Star-caliber season came way back in 2017-18. At least Russ was an All-NBA candidate as recently as last season.
Like Westbrook, Wall thrived in his 20s thanks to historically unmatched athleticism. Considering he's never been a quality shooter — 32.3% career from deep — his decline, like Westbrook's, has been predictable and feels irreversible. Would being thrust onto a shaky Lakers team after nine months off suddenly spark a resurgence, or magically turn Wall into an above-average shooter?
Maybe the Lakers believe the Russ situation has become untenable. (We'll learn a lot about the Lakers on their upcoming six-game road trip — how Westbrook reacts to the benching, how the team reacts to AD's expected return, and how they perform against playoff teams.) Perhaps Russ proves unwilling to accept a lesser role going forward and remains pridefully disgruntled. In that scenario, the Lakers may conclude that adding a similar player — in terms of position, production, age, and contract — with a different attitude is beneficial. In theory, Wall would be excited to join the Lakers and not picky about his role.
Notably, Wall is a Klutch client, so the Lakers will have access to accurate information on his fitness. Rich Paul has sway with the Lakers' front office, too.
Incorporating Wall may seem like a challenge this late in the season, except the Lakers have made almost zero progress doing so with Westbrook, who has repeatedly complained about his inconsistent role and responsibilities in recent weeks. Whatever they've tried up until now hasn't worked, anyway.
I can see the arguments for and against a straight Russ-for-Wall swap. Adding the 2027 first-rounder, though, makes the price too steep for Los Angeles. It's the only first-rounder they can trade — do they really want to spend it on another declining veteran? Even a highly protected first-rounder or a pair of second-rounders is a bit costly unless the behind-the-scenes tension with Westbrook is irreparable.
That said, maybe there's a larger deal to be made with Houston. The Lakers have been linked to Eric Gordon, who would instantly become their third or fourth-best player. Nobody would be surprised if the Rockets traded Christian Wood — a potentially superb fit for the Lakers.
If the Lakers included Talen Horton-Tucker — who they've reportedly offered for Jerami Grant — they could possibly get Gordon in return. Losing THT would sting, but it's feasible that Wall and Gordon is an upgrade over Westbrook/THT in the immediate future. (I don't like this one, on account of the age difference between THT and Gordon.)
Ideally, the Lakers would be able to cobble together a package for Wood. The 6'10, 26-year old is averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds and hitting 36% of his triples. He's on an entirely reasonable contract: $13 million this season, $14 million in 2022-23. If the Rockets would accept Russ/THT/Kendrick Nunn/'27 1st/any number of second-rounders for Wall and Wood, the Lakers should think long and hard about saying yes.