The much-anticipated trade deadline came and went without the Los Angeles Lakers making a move.
Despite all of the trade rumors and speculation surrounding Russell Westbrook and his impending departure, the Lakers decided retaining Westbrook was a better idea than trading a 2027 first-round pick along with the star player for the Houston Rockets’ John Wall.
As the Lakers attempted to make a trade by the deadline, they managed to find just one taker for the services of the much-criticized former league MVP. The Rockets — Westbrook’s former team during the 2018-19 season — were willing to take back their former player if packaged with a future first-round draft pick.
However, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the Lakers weren’t willing to budge. Discussions ended once the Rockets pushed for the first-round pick to be included in the deal.
“The discussion ended because of the refusal to include the draft pick, sources said,” says Haynes. “The Lakers did not make any moves before the trade deadline despite losing six of their last eight games.”
General manager Rob Pelinka explained the Lakers’ failure to execute any trade at the deadline.
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“But ultimately we didn’t find a deal that had a net positive effect for the short term success of the team and the long term, and those are both things we consider,” Pelinka explained.
Haynes notes that the Lakers will now go through the buyout market in an attempt to save a season that is quickly spiraling out of control.
“Now, the Lakers will look to the buyout market, sources said,” explains Haynes. “However, that path also looks dim to bring in a player who could help the Lakers move into title contention.”
The Lakers currently stand at a record of 26-31, ninth place in the Western Conference. Los Angeles is five games back of the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets. If the Lakers fail to leap into the top six of the West by season’s end, they’ll be forced to clinch a playoff berth through the play-in tournament.
The reality of the Westbrook situation is this — it’s not working. And it’s not going to get any better over the last 25 games of the regular season.
The situation has reached a boiling point. No longer is it just simply clear that Westbrook isn’t an asset to the Lakers winning games. It’s also reached a point where head coach Frank Vogel is comfortable sitting Westbrook at the end of games. And he has management’s backing to do so.
At first, Westbrook approached the situation in a constructive manner. After he was benched for the second straight time in a blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, Westbrook sounded off on his head coach’s decision.
“You never know when you’re coming in, you never know when you’re coming out,” Westbrook said. “You never know when you’re playing, you never know… a bunch of things. And I’m speaking for me personally, so it’s a difficult process to be able to figure out and create some rhythm and some consistency where we can actually see what we’re able to do as a team, but those decisions are made by him and his coaching staff, and you’ve got to live with it and move on.”
When asked if there’s a certain benchmark that he needs to meet in order to close out games, Westbrook’s response didn’t exactly calm the situation down.
“Who? Me? (laughs) I don’t have that answer for you brother,” Westbrook said. “I wish I did. I shouldn’t have to hit any benchmark, to be honest. I’ve put a lot of work in. I’ve got a lot of respect in this game. I don’t have to hit a benchmark. Or I shouldn’t have to. I earned the right to be in closing lineups. I mean, numbers will tell you. I don’t have to explain that.”
And if one assumed the emotions would cool down after a couple of nights off, that wasn’t the case on Friday when Westbrook delivered this zinger regarding his back injury to reporters.
“It comes and goes,” Westbrook said. “I’m not accustomed to sitting down for long stretches and getting up and then, like, moving quickly. It kind of stiffens up a little bit.”
There’s no guarantee acquiring Wall — a 31-year-old guard who hasn’t played this season and is coming off of a serious Achilles’ tear that has allowed him to play in just 40 games over the past three seasons — would have been the cure to all of the Lakers’ woes.
But it’s clear that this three-headed trio of Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis isn’t even cutting it enough for the Lakers to lock in a playoff spot.
Acquiring Wall would have at least given hope and a much-needed change in the locker room. In fact, it would have led to less hoopla and pressure as the media continues to hound on Westbrook and the Lakers for a trade that looks worse with each passing day.
The Lakers will attempt to scour the buyout market. According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, Los Angeles is interested in bringing back their former point guard, Dennis Schroder.
There will be some interesting free agents on the market as a result of buyouts. However, none of them will be a difference-maker to the point of resurrecting the Lakers’ disappointing season.
Los Angeles was desperate to make a deal at the trade deadline, but apparently not desperate enough.
Instead, the Lakers will ride out the rest of this 2021-22 season hoping that something will click to save this season.
Put a fork in them, Los Angeles. This story won’t have a happy ending until the Lakers trade (hopefully) Westbrook in the offseason.