Russell Westbrook shot 5-of-17 from the field on Tuesday in a disappointing 109-104 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks. That performance was hardly an outlier. Westbrook has, on 12 occasions, finished games with more turnovers than made field goals. He's been benched late in several games due to his poor play, and his plus-minus against the Mavericks (-8) was greater than the outcome the Lakers lost the game by (5). At 27-34, any slim hopes the Lakers still held for contention are fading fast. In the fairly near future, their focus will have to shift to next season.
And if both sides have their way, they'll be preparing for next season separately. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reports that there is "mutual interest in finding Westbrook a new home this summer," potentially ending one of the most disastrous experiments in Lakers history.
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The Houston Rockets were interested in a potential Westbrook-for-John Wall swap at the trade deadline provided the Lakers provided adequate draft compensation, but according to Fischer, those talks "didn't generate significant traction." At the time, rumors suggested that the Rockets wanted a 2027 first-round pick from the Lakers, or at least the right to swap picks that season. The Lakers were legally able to trade only one first-round at the deadline: either 2027 or 2028.
When the offseason arrives, the seven-years rule will allow the Lakers access to their 2029 first-round pick for trade purposes, and Westbrook himself will be on an expiring contract. That will make him far more tradable. There are going to be teams with multiple long-term contracts clogging their books that are interested in a Westbrook trade primarily for the sake of clearing 2023 cap space. Should the Lakers attach both of those picks, they could potentially add a few starting-caliber players.
An alternative Fischer explored would be using the stretch provision to waive Westbrook, but there would be little practical benefits in doing so. That approach would get Westbrook off of the team and allow them to spread his $47 million salary over the next three seasons, but even if they did so, they would not be able to generate actual cap space in 2022 because LeBron James and Anthony Davis are making maximum salaries. What stretching Westbrook would do is prevent the Lakers from maximizing their impending flexibility in 2023 or use Westbrook's salary as a tool for an offseason trade.
If Westbrook is going to leave this team in the offseason, it is going to come through a trade. Both sides appear to want one. Now, all that's left to do is find a partner.