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From the moment it became clear that Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers were barreling toward a divorce, the Indiana Pacers have stood out as an ideal trade partner. The Pacers are rebuilding around young guards Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte, and that has made veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield expendable. 

Both are on multi-year contracts. Westbrook will be on an expiring deal once he inevitably opts into the last year and $47.1 million on his contract. Hield very nearly became a Laker before the 2021 NBA Draft. Brogdon likely would have been a deadline target this season if not for his contract extension rendering him legally untradeable until the offseason. Such a swap has been widely speculated about in recent months, but now, it is starting to look like a legitimate possibility.

The Pacers could indeed emerge as a possible trade partner for the Lakers, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, and they are expected to make Hield and Brogdon available this summer. The Lakers have two first-round picks that will be tradable this summer: their unprotected selections in 2027 and 2029. If the Pacers were to make this trade, they would have only a bit more than $30 million in salary on their books in the summer of 2023 before factoring in upcoming draft picks and a possible extension for Myles Turner. Swapping Brogdon and Hield for Westbrook could therefore net the Pacers not only significant draft capital, but meaningful cap flexibility.

The Lakers, meanwhile, would replenish their backcourt with badly needed scoring. Brogdon is the rare point guard adept at both running an offense himself and functioning off of the ball as a spot-up shooter. The Lakers need a guard like this to both space the floor for LeBron James and offer him ball-handling relief. Hield is one of the very best shooters in the NBA. His fit is so obvious that the Lakers literally tried to acquire him a year ago.

Westbrook wouldn't be much of a fit in Indiana. The last thing the Pacers need is a guard who's going to take shots and touches away from Haliburton and Duarte, though the small-market Pacers likely wouldn't mind using Westbrook's reputation to sell some tickets. In all likelihood, the Pacers would be trading for Westbrook as merely an expiring salary, and could therefore buy him out and allow him to choose a suitable destination for himself. 

That could be Westbrook's fate wherever he is traded. At this stage of his career, he has more value as a contract than he does a player. The Lakers will have to take advantage of that big expiring deal if they plan to re-enter the championship conversation. This sort of trade could help them do just that.