The Los Angeles Lakers believe they have a strong chance to sign star guard Russell Westbrook when he hits free agency next offseason, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN, via MSG Network.
Broussard mentions that several teams are looking into trading for Westbrook right now after Kevin Durant departed from the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors last week. The Lakers will not be one of those teams who try to swing a deal, as they think they can sign Westbrook next summer anyway, per Broussard’s sources.
While there’s no telling what Westbrook might do, it makes sense that Los Angeles thinks it has a chance to add him on a long-term deal. Westbrook was born in Long Beach before attending college at UCLA, and seems destined to head to a premier franchise in a big market like Los Angeles.
The 27-year-old has been one of the best players in the game for the past several seasons and would be a huge addition to any roster. Westbrook has averaged 21.5 points per game lifetime according to Basketball-Reference, and posted career-best marks of 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists per contest in 2015-16.
With Durant headed to the Warriors, the Thunder appeared to have lost any chance of competing in the West and may choose to blow up the roster instead. While it’s unclear what direction Oklahoma City will take this offseason, it could get a huge return for Westbrook, and will likely lose him for nothing when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017.
Naturally, a few teams believe a player like Westbrook could push them over the top, and he is drawing plenty of trade interest. The Boston Celtics would be a good fit, as they have a ton of long-term assets and appear close to contention, but don’t have a true superstar like Westbrook.
Even if he is a good fit, the Lakers are not one of the teams who should consider signing Westbrook. Los Angeles does have the resources with young players like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram, but a trade to get Westbrook would not make sense at this time.
Adding Westbrook to that roster wouldn’t put the Lakers on the same level as the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the West. Instead, the Lakers realize that they should tank for one more year and get a strong draft pick to add to that young core, and then attempt to lure Westbrook.
The only thing that could make a Westbrook trade worthwhile for the Lakers is if it would increase their chances of signing him in free agency. However, if they indeed think they have a strong enough chance to add him next summer anyway, the team is better off leaving such a deal to the Celtics or Miami Heat.
Los Angeles has a good of a chance as anyone to sign Westbrook next summer, and keeping those four young assets plus next season’s top draft pick will make the team even more appealing to him and other free agents. Los Angeles currently has only $76 million on the books for 2017-18, so it could build a contender very quickly by adding a superstar like Westbrook to the young core.
Of course the Lakers have missed out on previous big free agents in recent years, including Durant this season and Carmelo Anthony two years ago. While the young talent is there, much of it is still unproven, and a player like Westbrook may be more interested in a team who appears ready to win right away.
Still, the Lakers have every reason to think they could sign Westbrook next summer, so passing on a trade now is the right move.
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