The Warriors super-team has put Russell Westbrook on the market. The Lakers, however, should stand pat.
Durant’s move has had a ripple effect across the league. Of course as time goes by I’m pretty sure it will seem like a 9.0 magnitude earthquake instead of mere ripples, but I digress.
Most smart sports writers have called for the criticism of Durant’s decision to stop. And I agree, do you KD. However, Golden State is going to be dominant, and their dominance will influence decision making around the league. The Warriors are a super team comprised of four of the top fifteen players in the NBA. Not only that, but the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (a nickname I’m more fond of than the big four) have a seamless fit of playing styles. It’s not the big 3 where D-Wade and LeBron had to trade ball handling duties, and it really took them a year and Wade taking a backseat to start playing up to their potential. This is different. The gravity of KD, Steph, and Klay make them almost as big of threats when they’re running off the ball as when they’re operating on it. Draymond is a natural playmaker who is best when he gets dumped the ball out of a pick and roll. The bottom line is that the fit of this core is more snug than a pair of skinny jeans, and that’s a problem.
What all of this means is that, for the foreseeable future, Golden State is going to be far and away the title favorites every year. Look, I get it, injuries happen, egos collide, great teams fall. So of course anything can happen. But win now moves for non-elite teams don’t make a ton of sense given the current landscape of the league.
The KD move has left OKC with an incentive to move in another direction, with all logic pointing towards contract-year, Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook being put on the trading block. This has had many Lakers fans and tv/radio broadcasters calling for LA to push for a trade for Muscle Chestbrook. And the logic behind it makes sense. Normally when you can get a top 7 guy on your team, especially in a big market where free agents are willing sign(last three years be damned), you make that move and figure out the rest later. Westbrook is my favorite player to watch on the planet, yet I believe with passion that the Lakers shouldn’t really consider trading for him. Here’s why.
Prying Westbrook from the Thunder’s grasp would take a monster offer. Likely a package built around both D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The Lakers can’t trade any future firsts to sweeten a deal until way down the road because of the Stepien Rule, so they’d have to scrape their roster clean to make this trade. So all the pain of losing these past three years would result in no young players.
But here’s the bigger problem. If the Lakers made that trade, they still wouldn’t be very good. Westbrook and a bunch of role players is a fringe playoff team at best. And there’s no guarantee that he would stay long term; it’s not like Mozgov and Deng are major selling points. One of the main arguments for trading for him is that then Los Angeles would have a decent team and a star to convince other free agents to come to the Lakers. The free agent class of 2017 is a great one and they would be in prime position to do some serious recruiting. Except that is ignoring the fact that after this recent spending spree on veterans, the Lakers don’t exactly have infinite cap space lying around. Also, the free agent crop next year is great, but it’s littered with point guards and restricted free agents. If you remove those two groups that the Lakers wouldn’t need or be able to sign, the free agency class isn’t overflowing with candidates. Reasonable stars to pair with Westbrook are: Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, and Paul Millsap. That’s not exactly a murderers row. The following year the stars who the Lakers could get are Paul George or Demarcus Cousins.
So if you assume the best case scenario while putting all the salary cap issues aside, in two years they would have signed Westbrook and one of those other guys to long term deals. That’s a very good core. But is that team better than the Spurs and Cavs? Maybe. The Warriors? Not a chance. That’s the effect that this Warriors super team has on the league. If the Lakers have everything break exactly their way, they would still be massive underdogs. If the best case scenario of a Westbrook trade isn’t likely to lead to a title, then it’s hardly advisable.
Besides, there’s always a chance that if the young guys progress enough Westbrook comes to the Lakers next year anyways, with the young core being the influential factor. The bigger question is how much Westbrook’s game will decline as his athletic peak falls further behind him. Depending on the Lakers progress, they might be better off passing on him altogether and waiting for a star that’s more in line with their timeline.
Regardless, the Lakers goal shouldn’t be to build a pseudo contender, it should be to build a title favorite. Making this trade would never make the Lakers favorites, following the Warriors footsteps and growing a core from the ground up could. To become a title favorite, patience is the only option. The Lakers should emulate the Warriors instead of trying to dethrone them.