66.9 F
New York
Sunday, August 14, 2022

Russell Westbrook trade packages, title odds, expectations for Darvin Ham: Lakers mailbag

In Part 2 of our Los Angeles Lakers mailbag, we cover Russell Westbrook trade packages, the Lakers’ title odds, the best starting and bench lineups, expectations for Darvin Ham, the roles for Lonnie Walker IV, Talen Horton-Tucker and Max Christie and more.

(Editor’s note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.)

Do you think the Lakers will eventually end up giving up two firsts? If so, will it be to get Kyrie Irving or Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? — @dustin_rigsby

Do you get the sense that the Lakers are trying to make two separate trades using the firsts? One with Westbrook and one with Horton-Tucker/Nunn/etc.? — @crownroyalpapi_

Yes, insofar as I think the ultimate price to trade Westbrook will include attaching two first-round picks. If the Lakers can finagle an alternate outcome — be it a pick swap or two second-round picks — that’s a win for them, in my opinion. That seems unlikely, though, which is why there’s a possibility Westbrook isn’t traded.

Between the two trades mentioned, the Lakers would prefer the Irving option. I think that’s a deal they’d eventually be willing to include two first-round picks for. I don’t think they’d be willing to do so in the Indiana deal.

As always, it’s a fluid situation. James’ contract extension, which he became eligible for on Aug. 4, is hovering over the entire situation. So, too, is Westbrook’s willingness, or lack thereof, to make the changes that head coach Darvin Ham and the front office are asking of him (similar changes to the ones he was asked to make last season).

To the latter question, in an ideal scenario, the Lakers could use two future firsts (likely 2027 and ’29) to make separate roster upgrades, turning Westbrook and Horton-Tucker and/or Nunn into Irving, another key Brooklyn Nets role player (Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale or Seth Curry) and Buddy Hield. However, that seems unlikely, as the asking price remains a minimum of a first-round pick attached to Westbrook — and oftentimes more — which makes it difficult to pull off two trades of that magnitude.

Do you get the sense the Lakers are holding back a bit in trade offers because they’re bidding against themselves? — @IZigger77

At what point do the Lakers stop worrying about getting the best offer and more about getting something for Westbrook? I don’t see how they can start the season with him on the roster. — @old_skoolbball

Yes, I think the Lakers are somewhat holding back as they’re currently not in a bidding war. That could change depending on what happens with Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell, who are co-headlining the current trade market. If one or both are moved, or even if Durant stays in Brooklyn, that could shift another team’s attention toward Irving (like Miami), driving up the price. There’s also the possibility that Irving stays in Brooklyn, though there is a lot of mixed intel on his future.

Now, to the second question, there will come a time in which the Lakers have to decide if they’re willing to continue to play hardball and risk missing their window to trade Westbrook. There is a sense among some that training camp is a soft deadline to move Westbrook. If he’s on the roster in late September, there will be a massive off-court distraction, with the media asking about his future, his relationship with James and the organization, Ham’s vision of his role and responsibilities.

This isn’t going to go away. That’s not the primary reason the Lakers should trade Westbrook — it’s because he’s not performing up to his gigantic contract and is a subpar fit as a third option — but it’s certainly an ancillary motivation.

How would you rank the rumored Westbrook trade destinations in terms of likelihood (Brooklyn-Spurs three-team deal, Pacers, Jazz and Knicks)? — @thefff198

How real is the Lakers’ interest in bringing (Julius) Randle back to LA? Where would you rank the New York trade out of the Utah, Charlotte, Brooklyn and Indiana trades? — @IanFranz_

In terms of likelihood at this moment, I’d rank them as 1) Indiana, 2) Brooklyn, 3) Utah and 4) New York. I think one and two are close, but Indiana seems more open to trading than Brooklyn at this moment. (There’s also a path to a three-way deal with Utah and New York.)

With Randle, I think it would be more about getting back an All-Star-caliber talent for Westbrook versus some of the other packages (like, say, the Jazz, in which the Lakers might be getting Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley and/or Bojan Bogdanović).

Randle isn’t a clean fit alongside Davis and James — the Lakers want more shooting or better defense at that other frontcourt spot — but the talent is there. He was better than Westbrook last season, even if he had a disappointing campaign in comparison with his breakout 2020-21 season.

One major concern with acquiring Randle is his contract. He has four years and $117 million remaining on his contract ($29.3 million annually). The Lakers will likely have to take on some long-term money in exchange for Westbrook’s contract, but that is a significant commitment to a one-time All-Star who’s probably best as the third or fourth option on a contender.

That’s the role Randle would play in Los Angeles, but the Lakers’ three best players would be in the frontcourt and there would be spacing concerns with the trio. Westbrook is the worst fit among potential third stars next to James and Davis, but Randle also is toward the bottom of that list.

Also, the Knicks’ pursuit of Westbrook would be a secondary path if they’re unable to land Mitchell. That remains their priority. So, this is another situation in which the Lakers aren’t necessarily in control of the trade talks.

So, are we supposed to believe that the Lakers are going to be able to move Westbrook? Isn’t the best option for the team to just sit him until he’s willing to take a buyout? — @DiegoMe689015158

The Lakers can trade Westbrook. Every player is tradable for the right price, as we’ve seen in recent years with the contracts of Westbrook, John Wall and Chris Paul being traded (and in some cases, for each other). It’s a matter of how much the Lakers are willing to give up. Are they willing to trade a second first-round pick? Are they willing to include Horton-Tucker and/or Nunn? What if a team asks for Austin Reaves? Where is the line?

If the Lakers aren’t willing to meet the asking price for Westbrook, then yes, I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that they are better off sending him home. That’s assuming he isn’t willing to try harder defensively and better adjust his offensive game around James and Davis. If he does those things, which he didn’t do last season, then I think the Lakers can find a way to make things work. That just seems like wishful thinking based on Westbrook refusing to do those things last season.

Westbrook was a harmful defender who also struggled to finish in the paint and was among the league leaders in turnovers. They need him to be much better on both ends if they bring him back.

How long do the Lakers wait to decide on a trade? And if it becomes clear that the Kyrie trade and the Pacers trade won’t be happening, would the Lakers rather keep Westbrook or find other deals that still don’t move the needle? —  @BasedGodDes731

Well, there’s a hard deadline (the February 2023 trade deadline) and a soft deadline (training camp in late September). I think it’s in the Lakers’ best interest to resolve the situation ahead of training camp when the matter could become a considerable distraction. The Lakers need a palate cleanse heading into next season.

The Lakers have already begun exploring other options. They’ve spoken with multiple teams beyond Brooklyn and even Indiana. The rub is that they’re not interested in giving up picks — definitely not two — if it’s not going to dramatically improve the roster. Therefore, unless a hypothetical trade checks that box, the Lakers will likely hold onto Westbrook and seek alternative solutions to their problem.

Do you believe as the Lakers are currently constructed, they can win a championship or even make the playoffs? — @jmi1323

No, I don’t believe the Lakers, as currently constructed, can win a championship. I think they can certainly make the playoffs, but I expect them to be a bottom-tier playoff team if Westbrook is on the roster and playing (somewhere in the No. 6 to No. 9-seed range). If we compare their supporting cast to other top West teams, they fall significantly short.

The Lakers can compete with just about anyone because of James and Davis, but they’re at a talent disadvantage at most other spots in their lineup. We also haven’t seen how all of the pieces fit together yet. My opinion could change in training camp or the preseason. But the West is loaded with teams with better depth, more shooting and superior shooting.

What’s the best starting and bench lineup the Lakers have assuming no trades happen? Also, what do you predict the team’s record will be? — @Antdoggll

I recently wrote about this, so I would point you in that direction for more details. I’ll recap it briefly for you, though.

I think the best (and most realistic) starting lineup is Thomas Bryant, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Austin Reaves and Westbrook. This allows the Lakers to stay big while maintaining spacing with a stretch-five in Bryant. It also puts arguably their best point of attack defender, Reaves, as the primary defender against elite backcourt scorers.

Moving to the bench, I think the next five players in the rotation will be Kendrick Nunn, Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones. Nunn and Walker provide ballhandling and shot creation. Brown is a 3-and-D wing. Toscano-Anderson is a versatile, rugged two-way forward. And Jones is the type of long, mobile, rim-running and rim-protecting big that has thrived in Los Angeles.

As things stand, I believe Stanley Johnson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wenyen Gabriel and Max Christie will be on the outside of the primary rotation.

What do you expect out of Darvin Ham this season? Will he be very impactfully in the locker room and rally the guys around him? — @OTLF2022

I expect Ham to improve the spirit of the team, which was low for most of last season. In seeing Ham do his media tours and speaking with him, it’s easy to see why he was such an appealing coaching candidate. He has charisma and gravitas. He’s physically imposing. He’s a blue-collar coach. At the same time, he’s empathic, making him easily relatable. I think he’s capable of rallying the locker room.

From a schematic standpoint, I expect Ham to modernize Los Angeles’ offense — implementing more pace, screening, off-ball actions and 3-point opportunities — and improve upon the foundation of their base defense, which was largely successful under previous head coach Frank Vogel. There should be some surface-level similarities between the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, including prioritizing size and a more conservative defensive approach.

Do you think Ham can restructure the offense to help Westbrook? — @masonyo25

Yes, I do. I think there are more creative ways to use Westbrook. I also think the easiest path to do so is by staggering his minutes from James’. Westbrook, as the sixth man, leading the bench offense and playing a lot of two-man game with Davis in second-unit lineups, would be worth a look … if Westbrook is open to it.

The Lakers need to find ways to get Westbrook the ball in situations he can thrive in. More transition opportunities. More pick-and-rolls with Davis, Jones and Bryant. More screening actions that can leverage his playmaking as the roller in four-on-three situations (similar to the way the Golden State Warriors use Draymond Green as a non-shooting screening threat). More activity off the ball as a screener and cutter. And it’s easier for Westbrook to increase his usage in those areas when James is off the floor.

How does coach Ham plan on using Lonnie Walker IV? — @i3adLxx

I expect Walker to function similarly to Malik Monk in that he’ll be the prototypical instant-offense guy off the bench. He’s a streaky shooter who can get hot at any moment. He’s incredibly athletic and explosive. But his shot selection and, to a larger extent, defense are both concerns. His defense is arguably the main reason he’s not seriously in the starting conversation (as well as his size). The Lakers can’t afford to start him next to Westbrook, even if they go bigger with their starting frontcourt with Bryant/Damian Jones, Davis and James.

Interestingly, Walker said he came to the Lakers “to play defense” and that “whoever you want me to guard, whenever it’s time for me to make some stops, that’s what I’m here for.” Perhaps a mindset shift can unlock a better defender under the tutelage of Ham and his coaching staff. But based on his performance in San Antonio, it doesn’t seem very likely.

Is Horton-Tucker in Darvin Ham’s plans? Have not heard him mention him once in any interview. — @asaul22

That’s an interesting observation. Ham hasn’t spoken much about Horton-Tucker. The sense I’ve gotten from those around the team is that Horton-Tucker is likely going to be toward the back end of the rotation considering his current skill set and what the team needs from their wings (mainly, 3-point shooting and consistent perimeter defense).

Horton-Tucker could earn his way into more playing time if he emerges as one of the team’s better perimeter defenders, which he showed flashes of last season. But the Lakers don’t necessarily need his primary strengths of ballhandling and shot creation with players like James, Davis, Westbrook, Reaves, Nunn and even Walker projecting ahead of him in the team’s pecking order.

Another way Horton-Tucker could grow into a larger role is if Westbrook is traded for a non-ballhandler (like Hield and Turner) and, as a result, the team needs his playmaking.

Thoughts on Max Christie on what he can impact on this Lakers roster? —@Widelakers

I like Christie’s theoretical 3-and-D skill set. There were some encouraging glimpses, particularly on the defensive end, in summer league. But I think he’s at least a season, if not two, away from being a legitimate rotation piece. He needs to bulk up and get stronger. He also needs to regain his shooting stroke. Then, of course, there’s the general learning curve for any rookie at the NBA level.

I doubt he contributes much, if at all, as a rookie. But many thought the same about Reaves entering training camp, so that could always change. Christie is more of a project than the Lakers are accustomed to with their late-round rookies, especially with their perimeter draft picks, but I think he’s a gamble that could pay off with the proper investment and development.

(Photo of Russell Westbrook: Kim Klement / USA Today)

Source

Related Articles

Latest Articles