Lakers

Lakers News: Could Russell Westbrook’s Bench Play Actually Make Him A Trade Asset?

Could the Lakers preserve their possibly quite-valuable future first-round draft picks?

During a Bovada Sports interview, Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson spoke with analyst Gary Sheffield Jr. about the play of Russell Westbrook since being moved to the bench four games ago. Their conversation took place after Westbrook shone for Los Angeles in a loss to the Jazz Friday, scoring a game-high 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, passing for six assists, pulling down three rebounds, and grabbing two steals to boot.

Gary Sheffield complimented Westbrook’s play as a reserve:

“I’m very impressed. I heard that whole thing going on with Russ where he was essentially telling coaches that his hamstring, due to his age and his wear and tear, he’s not going to be able to come off the bench. He [would say], ‘Every time this hamstring gets tight, it was probably because I came off the bench.’ So what’d they do? They started Russ over it. But time went on, maybe a week, [and] Russ is now coming off the bench and this is by far… the best Russ we’ve seen since second-half Washington Russell Westbrook… Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean Russ is a long-term solution for the Lakers. In my mind, LeBron and company, they should be ecstatic about this because it means Russell Westbrook is still a valuable player in the NBA in this role and another team is potentially willing to take on that player.”

During his four games as the Lakers’ sixth man, Westbrook is averaging 18.8 points a night on 50.9% shooting from the floor, 6.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 0.8 steals per game. All these counting stats are a massive improvement from his three initial games as a starter this season, when he looked entirely out-of-sorts. He averaged 10.3 points on a brutal 28.9% field goal percentage, 6.7 boards, 4.3 dimes, and two steals as a starter. He was never better than a -4 while playing for the Lakers in those three games.

That said, this writer does not envision Westbrook performing so well as to somehow become a positive asset in a possible (probable?) future trade. The 6’3″ point guard is earning $47.1 million on an expiring maximum-salaried contract, far more than market value for a high-caliber sixth man. Jordan Clarkson, who won Sixth Man of the Year with the Jazz in 2021, is taking home $13.3 million annually, though he is currently starting on a team hoping to tank. Clarkson had signed that deal as one of the league’s best reserves. That number may be a bit high for a player who’s turning 34 later this month, but Westbrook could certainly earn something in the $8-12 million range next summer as a free agent if he keeps this up all year.

Point being, Westbrook will not be treated as an asset on the trade market per se. Teams looking to clear cap space and throw their hats in the lottery ring will try to deal for Brodie, and they’ll most likely have their sights on getting both of L.A.’s very appetizing 2027 and 2029 future first-round draft picks, the real prize of a trade. Westbrook remains a quality basketball player when he gets an opportunity to lead the way as a playmaker. But not at his current salary.

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