It appears the Los Angeles Lakers will have another year of Russell Westbrook, while the Brooklyn Nets will have a potentially disgruntled Kyrie Irving in fellow star Kevin Durant’s ear for the coming season, after each player exercised a contract opt-in this week.
Both teams could still use a split.
Will they lose their opportunity once the Oklahoma City Thunder’s cap space evaporates on July 1st?
Are any other teams willing to step in as a trade partner to absorb Westbrook’s final year at $47.1 million after free agency resumes July 6?
Isaac and the Magic
Looking into 2022-23, the Orlando Magic project to have $26.2 million in cap room with 11 players under contract, plus 2022 No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero. To reach that much space, Orlando would need to renounce the rights to free agents like Mo Bamba, Gary Harris and Robin Lopez.
The team also owes $52.2 million over three years to Jonathan Isaac, who has missed the last two seasons primarily with a knee injury. He and veteran wing Terrence Ross may no longer be in Orlando’s plans.
If the Magic were willing to take on Westbrook’s final $47.1 million, dumping the remaining salary owed to Isaac and Ross ($11.5 million), Orlando would only add about $5.6 million. That is assuming Westbrook takes a $6.4 million buyout on par with John Wall’s giveback to the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers could send cash to make up that difference, perhaps with second-round considerations. It would probably take a future first, likely L.A. ‘s selection in 2027, to pry Irving from the Nets.
The Nets would take Ross while generating a $25.4 million trade exception for Irving. That number would climb to Irving’s full salary if Ross went to a fourth team. The Brooklyn point guard may need to waive his $5.48 million trade bonus to get a deal done in any of the following cases.
Other variations could include Talen Horton-Tucker to Brooklyn instead of Ross or even Bamba via sign-and-trade to Los Angeles (though that would lock in a hard spending limit for the Lakers at $155.7 million, which would be difficult to do in a single transaction with Irving and Isaac).
The Lakers are unlikely to get out of Westbrook’s contract unscathed. Still, Isaac’s deal can be waived and stretched for seven years at a friendly number ($3.4 million, under 3 percent of next season’s projected salary cap of $122 million). That could be the Lakers’ choice, giving up multiple firsts or, instead, a relatively small amount of cap space that would not be relevant until after the end of the LeBron James/Anthony Davis/Irving era.
For Los Angeles to commit to acquiring Irving, the Lakers would likely need him to extend and trade for two additional seasons (which would max out at roughly $91 million).
And as for the Nets? Whatever decision the team makes with Irving needs to be done in concert with Kevin Durant buying in that Brooklyn is indeed his long-term home.
Spurs on a Rebuild?
The 2023 draft class, headlined by French prospect Victor Wembanyama, may be worth the Spurs’ change of direction. If so, taking Westbrook’s salary for draft considerations might hold some appeal.
The San Antonio Spurs project to have up to $34.4 million in cap space in July, assuming the team does not bring back Lonnie Walker IV. If the Spurs are looking to move Dejounte Murray, as reported by B/R’s Jake Fischer, the franchise may intend to take a deeper step into a rebuild.
The Nets could use a starting center like Jakob Poeltl from the Spurs, plus a $27.5 million trade exception. San Antonio would likely need to send one of Doug McDermott or Josh Richardson to either Los Angeles or Brooklyn. Along with Irving, the Lakers could take both McDermott and Richardson—but not without sending out additional salary like Kendrick Nunn, Horton-Tucker or others.
Perhaps Poeltl reduces the Nets’ demand from the Lakers for Irving. Los Angeles may be open to giving up one first, but two may scuttle its interest. The Spurs, however, would need to be adequately compensated. Giving up Poeltl (if he is even available) while taking on Westbrook (to buy out) may be a big ask.
Pistons Open for More Trades?
Detroit, expected to retain Marvin Bagley III, may still have the means to take on a player with Westbrook’s sizable contract. However, the Pistons would have to include players like Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph and Walker.
The Detroit Pistons have been busy in partnership with the New York Knicks, agreeing to take on Kemba Walker with Jalen Duren (pick No. 13 in the draft) and now Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, per reported.
The Nets would get Nunn ($5.3 million) from the Lakers and a $31.7 million trade exception. The Pistons would also need to be creative to keep Bagley (renouncing his rights, executing the multiple trades, buying out Westbrook and then re-signing Bagley with remaining cap room).
The money is tight, and the Pistons would undoubtedly be in a position to demand more from the Lakers than perhaps the Magic and Spurs. Given its flurry of moves, Detroit may be a less likely partner to resolve the Westbrook/Irving drama.
Hayward and Irving?
Most likely, the Lakers do not have a massive appetite for a player with a significant injury history, hence, The Charlotte Hornets as much as they would like to get out of Gordon Hayward’s hefty salary it’s just impossible. But if a trade doesn’t cost Los Angeles any draft compensation, it could be through Charlotte if the team is also willing to give up Terry Rozier.
That is also assuming the Nets would do Irving for Rozier, who is owed $96.3 million over the next four seasons (most of which is guaranteed). If so, Brooklyn would also add a $15.4 million trade exception.
The penalty for the Lakers is taking on Hayward’s $61.6 million over the next two seasons, along with Irving. Los Angeles would need to include Horton-Tucker or a package of Nunn and one additional player (Wenyen Gabriel or a free agent via sign-and-trade to Charlotte). The Nets could take on Horton-Tucker or Nunn if that holds any appeal.
If Hayward were healthy, he would be a significant upgrade for the Lakers. At a minimum, he becomes an expiring contract for the team to recirculate in trade next offseason.
The Hornets might value Westbrook, a Jordan Brand athlete, for what he is still capable of on the court.