As we enter the 2022 free agency period, there is one overarching story surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers: the potential acquisition of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
Irving is currently unhappy with his current situation with the Brooklyn Nets as he wants a long-term contract with the organization. Irving has a $36.5 million player option with the Nets for next season, but he could make a lot more money with a long-term deal with Brooklyn or signing with a new team via a sign-and-trade deal. .
While all of that is fine and dandy, the Nets aren’t trading Irving for Russell Westbrook. According to ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst, Brooklyn is only willing to trade Irving to the Lakers in exchange for Anthony Davis.
Via daily of the Lakers:
“The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly possible suitors for Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving this offseason, but the team isn’t expected to part with star Anthony Davis to acquire him.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst revealed on his podcast that the Nets would only consider a trade with the Lakers if Davis was involved. However, Windhorst also said that he ‘doesn’t see’ that happening for the Lakers this offseason.”
Let’s get one thing straight: Trading Davis for Irving isn’t going to change anything. While the Lakers will likely have Irving on the court for games in place of the injury-prone Davis, they would still have Westbrook on the roster in this scenario. Having three dominant players on the ball in LeBron James, Irving and Westbrook could make things worse.
The only scenario in which the Lakers can’t escape this monotony is by getting rid of Westbrook. Considering the Nets are unwilling to accept Westbrook and his $47.0 million player option for the 2022-23 season, the Lakers may have an exit from the point guard contract after all.
According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the Charlotte Hornets’ interest in Westbrook “is real.”
In a pre-draft column by O’Connor, the NBA analyst emphasizes how the Hornets have to make decisions regarding the future contracts of young players like Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball. With that in mind, Charlotte has to start shedding contracts on older veterans like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier.
“The interest in Russell Westbrook that Marc Stein reported months ago is real,” explains O’Connor. “Although Westbrook makes little sense as a player next to Ball, he has a contract to run and the Hornets could drop the bag on restricted free agent Miles Bridges, plus LaMelo Ball’s extension is just around the corner. It’s a good time to trade some other long-term salary (eg Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier) for an expiring contract at Russ.”
Whether the Lakers have a team led by James-Irving-Westbrook or James-Davis-Westbrook doesn’t really matter, it’s still going to result in a losing season.
The key is finding a way to move Westbrook’s expiring contract to a team looking to shed salary-cap commitments, and the Hornets happen to be one of those teams.
Although Charlotte is coming off a strong 2021-22 campaign that saw them finish 43-39 and compete in the entry tournament, the Hornets have never been a money-spending team under Michael Jordan’s ownership.
After Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson opted out of his contract to become the Hornets’ head coach, Charlotte settled on one of her former coaches, Steve Clifford. For the record, Clifford never knocked the Hornets out of the first round in five years as the franchise’s head coach.
In other words, despite having some good franchise pieces at Ball and Bridges, Charlotte isn’t likely to contend for an NBA title anytime soon. With the 24-year-old Bridges expected to get a max contract, which would be more than $30 million per year, and Ball likely to follow after him, the Hornets need to make some moves to avoid the luxury tax bill. .
That means players like Hayward and Rozier become viable options for the Lakers in a Westbrook deal. Hayward has two years left on his contract at just over $30 million per season in each of those years. Meanwhile, Rozier has three years left on his contract at $24 million per year on average with 2025-26 being a potentially guaranteed season.
Hayward is obviously the most attractive option considering his ability to shoot and fit in as a third wheel alongside James and Davis. He averaged 15.9 points per game on 39.1% shooting from beyond the arc last season.
If the Hornets can bundle Hayward and another short-term deal into a deal for Westbrook, the Lakers should be dead set on that trade.
The Lakers made one of the worst decisions in NBA history when they acquired Westbrook. Not only is he a poor fit on the floor, but he has shown little willingness to change focus from him after a disastrous 2021-22 season.
The sooner the Lakers get rid of Westbrook, the better off they’ll be. Moving Westbrook for a solid shooter in Hayward may not lead to a title, but it will certainly make the Lakers playoff contenders again.
Which is a drastic improvement over what they experienced last season.