Lakers News: Hoops Expert Believes L.A. Must Trade Russell Westbrook ASAP To Save Season

How long can Los Angeles afford to not deal Westbrook’s hefty expiring salary?

There is no denying that Russell Westbrook has been the most miserable part of your Los Angeles Lakers’ 2022-23 season. L.A. is 0-3 from deep thanks in no small part to the team’s overall three-point shooting, a brutal 25-of-108 start to the year. Westbrook alone has made just one of his 12 long range looks this year, which translates to a career-worst 8.3% of 4.0 (!) triple attempts per contest. Westbrook, a career 30.4% three-point shooter, has made just 29.8% of his threes or worse across the past six seasons on high volume. He’s got to cut that out.

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How detrimental is Westbrook to winning? An argument could be made that L.A. may have been able to steal its 103-97 Thursday loss to its loathed rival, the Clippers, and/or been able to hold on to its late lead during yesterday’s 106-104 home defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers, had Darvin Ham not felt compelled to play Westbrook during portions of both games’ pivotal closing minutes. Neither opposing club viewed Westbrook as a threat from long range at all, and both were able to let their Russ defenders leave him alone outside the paint. His panicked late-game heaves early in the shot clock both nights helped the opposition win. 

Westbrook did play decent late-game defense against Kawhi Leonard Thursday, but the fact that the 6’3″ Westbrook is needed to guard the 6’7″ Leonard at all speaks to just how much the Lakers lack real wing depth.

Overall, the former nine-time All-Star is averaging 10.3 points on .289/.083/.800 shooting splits in a career-low 28.7 minutes across L.A.’s three contests thus far, plus 4.3 assists (but also 1.7 turnovers) and 2.0 steals. On a club so bereft of shooting but so heavy on ball-handlers who need the rock in their hands in the paint to thrive, Westbrook’s weaknesses become even more glaring.

Although team vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka could be waiting another month to trade Westbrook, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer posits that Pelinka may need to make a move sooner rather than later in a new piece. O’Connor hilariously (and accurately) calls Westbrook a “washed-up bricklayer who needs to be traded immediately for the Los Angeles Lakers to have any chance of saving their season.” 

Westbrook’s jump shooting is so terrible, opposing players barely guard him from beyond the paint anymore. O’Connor notes that his defenders are only contesting 41.2% of Westbrook’s jumpers, the lowest such rate ever since Second Spectrum started tracking it nine seasons ago (only two other players over the course of a season have ever seen their jumpers contested less than 50% of the time). The second-lowest jump shot contest rate this year, per O’Connor, is Denver Nuggets power forward Aaron Gordon — at 60%.

Should L.A. wait a month from now, it could find itself in a massive hole, record-wise, thanks to a particularly intense early season schedule.

Here is the team’s impending schedule through this point in November:

At the Denver Nuggets, October 26th – Probable loss.At the Minnesota Timberwolves, October 28th. Probable loss.Hosting the Nuggets, October 30th – Probable loss.Hosting the New Orleans Pelicans, November 2nd. The Nuggets’ two best players, forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, are currently hurt, but could be back by then. Let’s call it a probable win for now.Jazz at Lakers, November 4th – Last week, I’d have taken the Lakers to win this one, but the Jazz are 3-0 against a tough early schedule and, until Danny Ainge until trades Lauri Markkanen and/or Jordan Clarkson and/or Mike Conley, could be a feisty foe. I’ll be charitable and call this another probable win.Cavaliers at Lakers, November 6th – Probable loss.Lakers at Jazz, November 7th – Assuming the Jazz remain good, I’m going to say the Lakers split these two early games, so let’s call this away game a probable loss.Lakers at Clippers, November 9th – Probable loss. Kings at Lakers, November 11th – Probable loss (I can’t believe I’m saying that, but they’re not bad this year!). Nets at Lakers, November 13th – Probable loss. Pistons at Lakers, November 18th – Probable win.Spurs at Lakers, November 20th – Probable win. Lakers at Suns – Probable loss.

So, adding in the Lakers’ three losses thus far, L.A. could be looking at a 4-12 start to its season. Even if we assume L.A. snags another victory or two somewhere in this schedule, that’s still pretty rough. After this intimidating stretch, the team gets a relatively easy schedule to close out November, when it plays the Spurs twice (albeit on back-to-back nights), the Pacers once, and the Trail Blazers once.

Given this epic upcoming stretch of games, might behoove L.A. to ship Westbrook and some amount of future draft equity out for multiple role players who could, you know, help the team win sooner rather than later. O’Connor mentions an oft-cited possible deal with the Indiana Pacers that could land big man Myles Turner and shooting guard Buddy Hield in L.A., though deals with the Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz also could make sense.

O’Connor, like ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins, thinks Westbrook could be at risk of not being rostered in the league pretty soon if he can’t turn things around.

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