As Lakers stumble early, Russell Westbrook trade possibilities linger: Shams’ Inside Pass Notebook


We are one week into the NBA season and teams across the league are still working on finding their footing on and off the floor. Playing and rotation styles are still being figured out. It is still far too early to make changes in most situations, and as front-office officials travel with their respective teams, attend draft scouting events and begin to identify this season’s prospective trade targets, everyone involved understands the trade market tends to take 20-to-30 games to develop.

Contending teams are working on themselves internally while postseason hopefuls are playing for strong starts to the season. Even in the midst of competition, the buyers and sellers always reveal themselves as the campaign inches closer to the February trade deadline.

In the middle of it all this year, stand the Los Angeles Lakers.

Off to an 0-3 start, the Lakers will be a pivotal team in this season’s trade market because the expectations are the franchise will continue to scan options using Russell Westbrook’s expiring $47 million deal and up to two unprotected first-round picks (2027, 2029). The Lakers lost to the Trail Blazers, 106-104, on Sunday — giving up a 98-90 lead with 4:42 left in the game, when coach Darvin Ham inserted Westbrook back into the game.

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Shams’ Inside Pass: As Lakers stumble early, Russell Westbrook trade possibilities linger

After Sunday’s game, Ham and Westbrook answered questions about Westbrook’s fourth-quarter stint, which included missing both attempted shots and a 16-foot jumper that the former league MVP took — and missed — with 30 seconds remaining in the game and 18 seconds on the shot clock with the Lakers up 102-101.

The Lakers were impressed with Ham’s coaching acumen, his no-nonsense attitude and his ability to project as an authority figure when he went through the head coaching search process. Those traits have been put to the test from the very beginning of his tenure.

As The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported in August, Ham was given the authority to bench Westbrook down the stretch of games, and potentially remove him from the starting lineup. Ham was the lone coaching candidate to express the fortitude necessary to be able to bring Westbrook off the bench when needed, sources say. Westbrook was used in a reserve role in the final game of the preseason in Sacramento on Oct. 14, but the Lakers went back to Westbrook in a starting spot to start the season.

In the very early stages of the season, Westbrook has had some spurts of solid defense and energy plays, but has also shot just 28.9 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from 3-point land. As a team, the Lakers are shooting just 21 percent from 3. While Anthony Davis and LeBron James have played at their usual high level to start the year and Lonnie Walker IV and Juan Toscano-Anderson have been bright spots, the Lakers are still trying to find the best rotations to provide shooting and playmaking around their Big 2.

The Lakers and Pacers extensively discussed a potential deal sending Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to L.A. during the offseason, as The Athletic reported in early October, but no deal formed ahead of training camp. The Lakers and Pacers discussed several packages, but Indiana’s demand for both of the Lakers’ first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 prevented a deal from coming to fruition. Turner suffered an ankle sprain during warmups before the Pacers’ season opener last Wednesday, but is expected to return soon.

In a perfect world, the Lakers had hoped Westbrook would find a complimentary role in Ham’s system, but as sources have told The Athletic over the past month, the organization planned to keep an open mind with trade opportunities to improve the team. Potential trade partners across the league have wanted one or two unprotected first-rounders from the Lakers in all deal frameworks, which creates a battle over price and value.

Several more trade avenues are expected to open as the season goes on, as teams fall out of the postseason race and turn their attention toward top prospects Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.

Charlotte’s Terry Rozier emerged as a trade target for the Lakers in the offseason and their interest in him remains high, multiple sources tell The Athletic. The Lakers and Hornets held discussions about a possible three- or four-team trade during the summer, and hold him in high regard among their possible trade possibilities, but the dynamic Hornets guard’s availability will be entirely predicated on the franchise’s direction for the future and its play as the season goes on. Despite LaMelo Ball being sidelined with a Grade 2 ankle sprain and Rozier recently suffering his own sprained ankle, the Hornets and coach Steve Clifford are off to a 2-1 start in the Eastern Conference.

The Lakers have also held preliminary discussions with the Spurs in recent weeks, sources said, showing interest in three-and-D wing Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson has averaged nearly 13 points to start the season, shooting 47.1 percent on 5.67 three-point attempts per game. So expect the Lakers to continue to keep tabs with the Spurs, Hornets and Pacers as a potential trade partner as the season wears on.

For now, the Lakers appear determined to give the current roster a proper sample size of 20-to-25 games and assess their needs. Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka is tasked with balancing the team’s current state versus the future when using the only two first-round picks eligible to be traded for the remainder of this decade. And for the Lakers, the proper deal will take patience, strategy, internal resolve and growth.

More NBA news and notes as the season gets going…

The Timberwolves and center Naz Reid have engaged in contract extension talks as Reid starts his fourth season, sources said.

Minnesota has also engaged in extension discussions with guard Jaylen Nowell, but the fourth-year guard is expected to bypass a new deal and enter unrestricted free agency next offseason, according to sources. Nowell, a dynamic scorer, is averaging 15 points in three games to start this season.

In addition to the Hawks, the Suns have recently been engaged in talks with the Bucks on a potential Jae Crowder trade, sources said. Milwaukee has registered interest in the veteran forward who has remained away from the Suns’ organization as both sides work toward a trade. Miami is also believed to be among the current suitors for Crowder, according to league sources

 (Top Photo: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)





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