Outside of games being played in the Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, the hot topic around the league is where Russell Westbrook will be playing next season and beyond.
The Oklahoma City superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and with Kevin Durant departing to the Golden State Warriors, it appears that Westbrook’s days with the Thunder may be numbered.
The Thunder now face the decision that no front office ever wants to encounter. Do they roll the dice and attempt to re-sign Westbrook as an unrestricted free agent next summer or do they trade him now and get some value in return?
“What I’m hearing in Las Vegas from some GMs, not only are they hearing that Westbrook will get traded, it’s that it will be sooner rather than later — before the season starts — and the most likely destination is the Boston Celtics.”
Lakers fans obviously won’t be happy if Westbrook ends up playing for the Celtics next season, but any team that trades for him runs the risk of giving up assets for a player that can leave next summer.
Westbrook could theoretically extend his contract before he becomes a free agent, but would lose millions of dollars by doing so, and his camp has been adamant that it simply is not an option.
So with Westbrook set to hit the market a year from now, who might be the favorite to sign him next July? Obviously, a lot can change in the next year, but a lot of teams around the league believe he is destined to return to Los Angeles, writes The Norman Transcript’s Fred Katz.
There is growing speculation around the league that Westbrook, a Southern California native, will to go to the Lakers when he hits free agency after next season. And whether that’s true or not, whether the Thunder point guard changes his mind or never actually made it up in the first place, what matters is that there are teams who are convinced he’s likely heading to Los Angeles after the final buzzer of the 2017 season.
A major debate amongst Lakers fans the past few days or so surrounds the question of the team trading for Westbrook or simply waiting it out and pursuing the former UCLA Bruin next summer in free agency.
If the Lakers decided to trade for Westbrook, it would likely take either D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram being sent to Oklahoma City, if not both, plus additional pieces. It’s a hefty price to pay for a player that could leave after one season, but sometimes in these situations, to pull off a trade for a superstar, you have to be the highest bidder.
With that being said, that is far from the best option moving forward for Los Angeles. Either way, the Lakers — if they want Westbrook in purple and gold — are going to have to present a free agency pitch to him, regardless if they trade for him or not. While the additional guaranteed year that comes with acquiring his Bird rights would seemingly help give the Lakers an edge, we have seen in years past that players are certainly willing to take a four-year max deal elsewhere if they need to.
For Westbrook, it would probably be far more appealing to join a young Lakers core that remains entirely intact, as opposed to re-signing with perhaps only one or two pieces of said core remaining. And for the Lakers, landing Westbrook in a trade does not catapult them into contention. At best, it would net them a lower seed in the Western Conference playoff race, and they would have virtually no chance at knocking off the Golden State Warriors, let alone the rest of the conference.
Also, if you are Los Angeles, the risk of the worst-case scenario immensely outweighs the reward of trading for Westbrook. If the Lakers gutted their core to acquire him and he signed with someone else next summer, it would be absolutely devastating for a franchise that will likely convey two separate first round picks over the next three or four years. All the young talent acquired over the last three years would be for nothing.
Unless a deal is just too good to pass up, the Lakers should remain patient and ride out the season of development that is on the horizon with a new coaching staff that is far better than the past two seasons. If Westbrook really wants to be a Laker, pursue him next summer in hopes of adding him to the core already in place. Sometimes you have to take tremendous risks to trigger a significant reward, but this is not one of those cases. Patience is a virtue, and the Lakers need to trust that it will pay off for them in the end.