While Lakers Stumble Early, Russell Westbrook’s Trading Opportunities Hang On: Shams’ Inside Pass Notebook

We’re a week into the NBA season and teams across the league are still working their way up and off the floor. Play and rotation styles are still being figured out. It’s far too early to make any changes in most situations, and as front office officials travel with their respective teams, attend scouting events and begin to identify this season’s potential trading targets, everyone understands that the trading market is playing 20-to-30 games to to develop.

The contending teams are working on themselves internally, while hopeful players play after the season for a strong start to the season. Even amid the competition, the buyers and sellers are always revealing themselves as the campaign gets closer to the February trade deadline.

At the center of it all this year are the Los Angeles Lakers.

With a 0-3 start, the Lakers will be a crucial team in this season’s trading market as the franchise is expected to 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 on Sunday, 106-104, giving up a 98-90 lead with 4:42 left in the game, when coach Darvin Ham put Westbrook back into the game.

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Shams’ Inside Pass: While Lakers Stumble Early, Russell Westbrook’s Trading Opportunities Stuck

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 took — and missed — the former MVP of the league with 30 seconds left in the game. 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 as he went through the head coaching search process. Those qualities have been put to the test from the beginning of his tenure.

As The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported in August, Ham was given the authority to bench Westbrook during the games and potentially remove him from the starting lineup. Ham was the only coaching candidate to express the strength needed to take Westbrook off the bench when needed, sources say. Westbrook was used on a reserve role in the final preseason game in Sacramento on October 14, but the Lakers returned to Westbrook on a starting spot to start the season.

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

The Lakers and Pacers discussed at length a potential deal to send Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to LA during the off-season, as The Athletic reported in early October, but no deal was finalized before training camp. The Lakers and Pacers discussed different packages, but Indiana’s demand for both Lakers’ first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 prevented a deal from coming to fruition. Turner sustained an ankle sprain while warming up for the Pacers season opener last Wednesday, but is expected to return soon.

In a perfect world, the Lakers would have hoped Westbrook would find a complementary role in Ham’s system, but as sources told The Athletic last month, the organization intended to be open to trade opportunities to improve the team. . Potential trading partners across the league have wanted one or two unprotected Lakers first-rounders in all deal frames, creating a battle over price and value.

Several more trade routes are expected to open over the course of the season as teams drop out of the postseason race and turn their attention to top prospects Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.

Charlotte’s Terry Rozier emerged as a trade target for the Lakers in the off-season and their interest in him remains strong, multiple sources tell The Athletic. The Lakers and Hornets have been discussing a possible trade with three or four teams over the summer and are holding him high on their potential trade opportunities, but the availability of the dynamic Hornets guard will depend entirely on the direction of the franchise going forward and his game as the season progresses. Despite LaMelo Ball being sidelined with a grade 2 ankle sprain and Rozier recently sustaining 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 talks with the Spurs in recent weeks, sources said, expressing interest in three-and-D-wing Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson has an average of nearly 13 points to start the season, with 47.1 percent on 5.67 three-point attempts per game. So expect the Lakers to keep eyeing the Spurs, Hornets and Pacers as potential trading partners as the season progresses.

For now, the Lakers seem determined to give the current roster a good sample size of 20 to 25 games and assess their needs. The Lakers vice president of basketball operations, Rob Pelinka, is tasked with weighing the team’s current state against the future as he uses the only two first-round picks eligible to play for the remainder of this decade. to be traded. And for the Lakers, the right deal will take patience, strategy, internal determination and growth.

More NBA news and comments as the season progresses…

The Timberwolves and center Naz Reid are in talks to extend a contract as Reid enters his fourth season, sources said.

Minnesota has also held renewal talks with security guard Jaylen Nowell, but the fourth-year security guard is expected to sidestep a new deal and enter unlimited free agency next off-season, according to sources. Nowell, a dynamic goalscorer, will start this season with an average of 15 points in three games.

In addition to the Hawks, the Suns have recently been in talks with the Bucks about a possible Jae Crowder transaction, sources said. Milwaukee has expressed interest in the veteran striker who has stayed away from the Suns organization as both sides work on a trade. Miami is also considered one of Crowder’s current suitors, according to league sources

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

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