The Los Angeles Lakers have made it very clear that they have no plans to forfeit a first-round pick for Russell Westbrook, but if the deal goes through, would that require significant draft compensation? It might be a different story. So far, interest in the former point guard MVP has seemed tepid, but there has been a bit of buzz in recent days, in particular about one team: the Charlotte Hornets. According to Kevin O’Connor of The RingerCharlotte’s interest in Westbrook is “real.”
What motivates this interest is a bit more complicated. The Hornets already have young star point guard LaMelo Ball. But in two years they will have to pay him. Miles Bridges will become a restricted free agent next month. Shams Charania from Athletic reports that the Hornets are hesitant to sign him to the maximum deal. Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier have already signed expensive long-term contracts, and PJ Washington should join them next season. In other words, the Hornets will rise in price very quickly, and Michael Jordan does not seem interested in paying a luxury tax.
This is where Westbrook comes in. Next season, he will be more expensive than any $47 million Hornet (after he picks his player). However, his contract expires then, so if the Hornets want to save money long-term, they can send the Lakers Hayward, Rosier, or any other bulky contracts to their books to clear their finances for the future.
It’s also worth noting here that Kenny Atkinson, who is expected to replace James Borrego as Charlotte’s head coach, ended up quitting at the 11th hour to stay with the Golden State Warriors. This allowed Mike D’Antoni, who had trained Westbrook in Houston, to get back into the fight.
At this point, a Westbrook trade doesn’t seem imminent. The Lakers don’t seem particularly thrilled about the idea of earning a long-term paycheck when their books are due to be cleared next offseason. But after a bad season with Westbrook on their roster, they will finally have the opportunity to make a deal with him without sacrificing their future draft capital. If they do, this is an option they should explore.