Lakers still exploring ways to improve with potential Russell Westbrook deal

For teams searching to upgrade ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline — which, to be clear, still stands as the overwhelming majority of the league’s 30 clubs — forecasting potential additions for any playoff hopeful is really an exercise of process of elimination.

You can start with the burgeoning Kyrie Irving sweepstakes, as the All-Star point guard requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets on Friday afternoon. The Lakers, Mavericks and Suns are particularly expected to pursue Irving, league sources told Yahoo Sports. And yet the Nets could very well decide to keep Irving beyond the deadline, compete for a championship with Irving and Kevin Durant at the center of their roster, and leave Los Angeles, Dallas and Phoenix, plus others, looking elsewhere.

The Lakers are surely searching for continued upgrades to their lineup around LeBron James and Anthony Davis following their January addition of Rui Hachimura, sources said, and have held conversations with both Utah and Charlotte regarding trading Russell Westbrook and the final year of his $47 million salary. It’s been repeated by league personnel that Miami has little regard for swapping Kyle Lowry for Westbrook.

Even still, the Lakers have remained reluctant to offer both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in any deal — a price rival teams have consistently required to take on Westbrook’s contract — let alone sacrifice both selections without protections.

Any trade sending out Westbrook and two firsts would of course eliminate the possibility of a second deal utilizing one of those first-rounders to acquire another piece with Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker’s salaries, such as the Lakers’ primary target of Detroit Pistons sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, whom rival teams are starting to believe Detroit actually will retain through Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline. The same goes for veteran guard Alec Burks, who has a $10.5 million team option for the 2023-24 season. The Pistons are expected to explore signing Burks to a new contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports, just as Detroit did with Bogdanovic earlier in the season.

Los Angeles Lakers' Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Yes, the Lakers are still trying to improve by dangling Russell Westbrook in trade offers. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Utah’s carousel of options

One of the possible trade destinations for Westbrook, Utah, also remains a major catalyst ahead of the deadline. Any deal that sends Westbrook to the Jazz would almost certainly include veteran point guard Mike Conley, wing shooter Malik Beasley and forward Jarred Vanderbilt, but sources told Yahoo Sports that Utah’s front office has discussed various deals across the league with each of those three players — including several combinations of Beasley and Vanderbilt heading out of Salt Lake City together.

The Jazz continue to tell inquiring front offices they value Conley, Beasley and Vanderbilt as worth one first-round pick each, and Utah has discussed several frameworks that would send Beasley and Vanderbilt to teams as a package deal, such as with Atlanta, Portland and New York, sources said. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has also been included in several trade frameworks alongside Beasley and Vanderbilt, sources said.

Reserve big-man market

Vanderbilt’s name has also appeared amid the trade deadline conversation surrounding reserve big men, most notably with the Philadelphia 76ers, sources told Yahoo Sports. While teams like the Indiana Pacers have viewed the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt as an attractive option at power forward, Vanderbilt has been described by league personnel as a leading target in Philadelphia’s quest to fortify its frontcourt reserves behind Joel Embiid.

The backup center market may end up being the segment of trade-deadline activity that features the most action. In addition, the Sixers, Clippers, Blazers, Nuggets, Nets, Celtics, Raptors and Kings have been mentioned by league executives as holding differing degrees of interest to bolster their center rotations.

Toronto and Boston have been the two most consistent teams linked to San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, who is in the final season of a three-year, $26 million contract and is expected to command a salary of $20 million or greater in free agency. After Myles Turner signed an extension with Indiana, only Jusuf Nurkic has joined Poeltl as a starting-level center that has truly been made available on the trade market — and there does not seem to be great interest from opposing teams on taking on the final three seasons of Nurkic’s four-year, $70 million deal. Any team inquiring about Hornets center Mason Plumlee would be looking to add the veteran to its bench unit.

The rest of the big men floating around the deadline have been reserves such as Serge Ibaka, Andre Drummond, Richaun Holmes, Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes and Nerlens Noel. The name to keep an eye on most may be Timberwolves center Naz Reid, who has declined varied contract extension offers from Minnesota, sources told Yahoo Sports, and is said to be seeking salary in the ballpark of $10 million next season. While the Wolves have clearly shown interest in retaining Reid, Minnesota already has a mountain of money committed to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, plus the Wolves seem unlikely to be able to afford both Reid and guard Jaylen Nowell at the price points each player desires.