The Los Angeles Lakers' grand experiment has gone about as expected a third of the way through the season. The over-reliance on their Big 3 has already shown its consequences; LeBron James missed two weeks at the beginning of the season with an injury and Anthony Davis will be sidelined for at least a month with his own maladies. They get very little help from their bench on a night-to-night basis outside of the occasional Carmelo Anthony explosion, which is what happens when three players are making $120 million this season and the cap is at $112 million. Then you throw in a COVID outbreak and the team seems like it's on the brink of collapse.
These Lakers were always going to need time to figure things out. Matters are made worse by the injury bug they've suffered from and the widespread coronavirus outbreaks hitting every roster in the NBA. It was going to be hard enough to figure out how a bunch of career below-average shooters were going to mesh, and it gets much harder when one of the starters isn't available every other night.
Patience is what is being preached by the Lakers and patience is probably what most fans should embrace, especially given the state of the league right now with all the COVID cases. But these are the Lakers. Patience is not part of the equation. Everyone is looking for a quick-fix answer to ensure LeBron has his best shot at a title at age 37. The finger, then, is often pointed to Russell Westbrook, along with strong takes that the Lakers have to trade the talented yet flawed point guard.
That's all well and good in theory. Trading Westbrook for a bunch of effective rotation players would essentially revert Los Angeles back to their 2019-20 roster. That formula won them a championship, so it obviously works. Which is why it was so confusing that Rob Pelinka went the complete opposite direction and traded for Westbrook in the first place, but I digress. Trading Westbrook is a wonderful idea. But it cannot be executed, and thus the Lakers just need to figure it out with the superstar.
Westbrook is making $44 million this year. Forty-four million dollars. For all that money, he is averaging 19.5 points, 8.2 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game. He's shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from three, and 65.5 percent from the free-throw line. His VORP this season is 0.2, which effectively means he is barely better than a minimum salary point guard the Lakers can find in the G League.
Who's going to do the Lakers, of all teams, a huge favor and trade for him? And not only trade for him, but give valuable rotation players back in the process?
The answer is nobody. Nobody is going to do that. There is a universe out there where the Lakers cook up some insane five-way trade that sends Westbrook and half the roster out in exchange for players from four different teams, but that stuff rarely happens in 2K, much less in real life. The Lakers are going to find no suitors for Westbrook. Even the Sixers wouldn't give up Ben Simmons, who literally is not playing, for Westbrook. It is impossible to overstate how bad his deal is and how little the point guard is valued when conjoining the contract and his style of play.
The Lakers cannot realistically find a trade partner while improving their team. Getting rid of him and hoping they'll enjoy addition by subtraction will undoubtedly only make LeBron mad and probably wouldn't work out anyway. Which means... the Lakers' only choice and only legitimate shot at a chip this year... is to make it work with Westbrook.
It is not an easy task for all the reasons mentioned above and more. But it is their only path forward. They can't trade Westbrook. They can't trade anybody else while tangibly improving. They just have to make it work with what they got. If they can't, Pelinka can re-evaluate during the offseason and use the long summer months to cook up a deal that would shake up the roster yet again. But for now, making things work with Westbrook on the court is their only choice.