The Athletic

Shams inside pass: As Lakers stumble early, Russell Westbrook trade possibilities persist

We’re a week into the NBA season and teams across the league are still working to find their footing on and off the floor. Playing and rotation styles are still being defined. It’s still far too early to make changes in most situations, and as front office managers travel with their respective teams, attend scouting events and begin to identify potential trade targets this season, all those involved understand that the trade market tends to take 20- to-30 games to develop.

Competing teams are working on themselves internally while playoff hopefuls are playing for strong starts to the season. Even amid the competition, buyers and sellers are still revealing themselves as the campaign nears the February deadline.

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

With an 0-3 start, the Lakers will be a pivotal team in this season’s trade market as the franchise is expected to continue to analyze options using the expiring $47 million deal from Russell Westbrook 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 reinserted Westbrook into the game.


Shams inside pass: As Lakers stumble early, Russell Westbrook trade possibilities persist

After Sunday’s game, Ham and Westbrook answered questions about Westbrook’s fourth-quarter pass, which included the two missed shot attempts and a 16-foot jumper 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, no-nonsense attitude and ability to project himself as an authority figure as he went through the head coaching search process. These traits were put to the test from the start of his tenure.

As Athleticism‘s Jovan Buha reported in August Ham was given the power to bench Westbrook for the duration of matches and potentially remove him from the starting line-up. Ham was the only managerial candidate to express the courage needed to be able to bring Westbrook off the bench when needed, sources say. Westbrook was used in a reserve role in Sacramento’s final preseason game on October 14, but the Lakers returned Westbrook to a starting position to start the season.

Early in the season, Westbrook had a few bursts of strong defensive play and energy, but also shot just 28.9 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from 3-point range. As a team, the Lakers are shooting just 21% from 3. While Anthony Davis and LeBron James played at their usual level to start the year and Lonnie Walker IV and Juan Toscano-Anderson were bright spots, the Lakers always trying to find the best rotations to ensure shooting and play around their Big 2.

The Lakers and Pacers discussed at length a potential deal sending Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to Los Angeles this offseason, as Athleticism reported in early October, but no deal was reached before training camp. The Lakers and Pacers have discussed multiple packages, but Indiana’s demand for the Lakers’ two first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 prevented a deal from materializing. Turner suffered a sprained ankle in warmups ahead of the Pacers’ season opener last Wednesday, but is expected to return soon.

In a perfect world, the Lakers had hoped Westbrook would find a complementary role in Ham’s system, but as sources have said Athleticism over the past month, the organization has planned to keep an open mind with business opportunities to improve the team. Potential trade partners across the league have wanted one or two unprotected first-round Lakers players in all trade frames, creating a battle over price and value.

Several other trade avenues are expected to open up as the season progresses as teams pull out of the playoff race and turn their attention to top prospects Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.

Charlotte’s Terry Rozier became a trade target for the Lakers this offseason and interest in him remains high, multiple sources say Athleticism. The Lakers and Hornets had discussions about a possible three- or four-team trade over the summer and hold him in high regard among their possible trade opportunities, but the Hornets’ dynamic guard’s availability will depend entirely on the situation. direction of the franchise for the future and its play over the course of the season. Although LaMelo Ball was sidelined with a Grade 2 ankle sprain and Rozier recently suffered his own ankle sprain, the Hornets and coach Steve Clifford got off to a 2-1 start in the Eastern Conference.

The Lakers have also had preliminary talks with Spurs over the past few weeks, sources said, showing interest in wing three and D Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson 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 on the Spurs, Hornets and Pacers as a potential trade partner as the season progresses.

For now, the Lakers seem determined to give the current roster an appropriate sample size of 20-25 games and assess their needs. Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka is tasked with balancing the team’s current state against the future when using the only two first-round picks eligible to be traded for the rest of that decade. And for the Lakers, the right deal will take patience, strategy, internal determination and growth.

More NBA news and notes as the season progresses…

The Timberwolves and center Naz Reid have entered contract extension talks as Reid enters his fourth season, sources said.

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

In addition to the Hawks, the Suns recently entered into talks with the Bucks on a potential trade with Jae Crowder, sources said. Milwaukee has expressed interest in the veteran forward who has stayed away from the Suns organization as the two sides work on a trade. Miami is also among current suitors for Crowder, according to league sources.

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

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