Lakers Rumors: Josh Richardson To L.A.?

A 3-and-D wing on the Lakers? What a concept!

Your Los Angeles Lakers have looked miserable on offense but surprisingly chippy on defense through their first three games of the young 2022-23 NBA season, all losses.

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By far the most brutal piece of the year thus far has been the miserable shooting and decision-making of starting point guard Russell Westbrook, who has looked even more cooked than he did during his first Lakers run. L.A. could probably benefit from benching him completely, so adverse is his on-court impact.

Shams Charania of The Athletic indicates in a new report that the Lakers are interested in trading the Westbrook contract for 3-and-D San Antonio Spurs small forward/shooting guard Josh Richardson, because of course they are. The Spurs signaled in the offseason that they were all-in on a massive tank this year when they flipped the contract of Dejounte Murray, their first All-Star since LaMarcus Aldridge, to the Atlanta Hawks for draft equity and the contract of Danilo Gallinari, whom they promptly cut. 

Westbrook can’t shoot, makes terrible choices with the ball in his hands late in games (as he did again Sunday in a last-second 106-104 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers), and is only a fitfully productive cutter and defender (he does still have the athleticism and specifically the lateral quickness to be good at these skills, but has never fully integrated them into his game). The Lakers actually are fielding so many mediocre veteran point guards to replace his minutes (probably added this year in anticipation of the team trading him) that they’re playing some of these undersized vets along the wing to address their lack of defense and shooting on the perimeter.

The 6’5″ Richardson, 29, was first selected with the No. 40 pick by the Miami Heat out of Tennessee in 2015. Since then, he has suited up for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Boston Celtics, before landing with the San Antonio Spurs in a trade last year. He was the centerpiece being sent out to Philadelphia in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Heat in 2019, and though he is not an elite-enough wing defender to ever be a championship team’s Danny Green or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (let alone its Jimmy Butler), Richardson is certainly a huge upgrade from, say, Lonnie Walker IV (who’s been pretty good this year for L.A.) or Troy Brown Jr. 

J-Rich is a career 36.6% three-point shooter on 4.3 attempts, though this season he’s connecting on a whopping 47.1% of his 5.7 looks a night across three games as a reserve for the 2-1 Spurs. He is averaging 12.7 points on .480/.471/1.000 shooting, plus 1.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.7 steals a night. He is currently making a very reasonable $11.6 million on San Antonio.

Because the Spurs have oodles of cap space, they don’t need to actually come close to matching Westbrook’s $47.1 million contract in a deal for Richardson. They can’t quite afford to do a one-for-one flip, and would need to throw in at least one other player getting compensated above the veteran’s minimum. The Spurs have been floated as a potential trade partner for L.A. before, due in part to their apparent willingness to clear out solid veterans if it means securing future draft equity and bottoming out in the near future. I’ve suggested that another three-point ace, Doug McDermott (earning $13.8 million this year), whom I like to think of as “dumb Kyle Korver” because both Creighton alumni are knockdown NBA shooters but only one had amazing cutting instincts, would be a terrific fit on this shooting-deprived Lakers roster. 

Even in his extreme dotage, Korver thrived next to Lakers All-Star small forward LeBron James on a pair of title-contending Cleveland Cavaliers clubs. Could McDermott, still in his prime at age 30, enjoy a similarly successful stint playing off the King? Dougie McBuckets is a 41.1% career three-point shooter on 3.4 attempts, a totally elite stat. This season, he’s nailed 63.6% of his 3.7 looks a game from long range — albeit in just three games. He’s averaging 9.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists with the Spurs in just 17.7 minutes a night. McDermott lacks the two-way ability of Richardson, but would handily become L.A.’s best marksman if the Lakers were able to secure him.

The team needs players like Richardson and McDermott, who would be excellent fits with James and Anthony Davis. Can L.A. do better in some other trade? Quite possibly, but another long-term benefit of making a deal along these lines is that L.A. would quite possibly not need to surrender both of its highly-coveted future first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to secure such a deal.

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