Should the Los Angeles Lakers look to trade Russell Westbrook over the offseason, as many expect them to, there’s at least one team that could have some interest in acquiring the veteran guard. According to NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Charlotte Hornets are a team to keep an eye on on the Westbrook front.
Charlotte’s interest in Westbrook is largely financial, per Stein, as trading for him could potentially help the team clear some cap space following the 2022-23 season. Westbrook has a player option for next season worth $47 million that he is widely expected to exercise. He will then become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
All-Star guard LaMelo Ball is firmly ensconced as the Hornets’ face of the franchise and on-the-ball star, but one scenario making the rounds is a belief that the Hornets could emerge with Westbrook interest in the name of creating some financial flexibility.
Gordon Hayward has two seasons left on a four-year, $120 million contract and has appeared in only 49 of Charlotte’s 79 games this season. Terry Rozier has performed well this season, with an above-average PER of 17.36, but next season is Year 1 of a four-year, $97 million extension.
With the Hornets facing the onrushing expense of signing [Miles] Bridges to a lucrative contract extension this offseason, followed by the eventual prospect of a max extension for Ball, combining one of their long-term deals with the final season on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s two-year, $24.5 million pact, as an example, could function as a workable trade framework. Any team trading for Westbrook has to send out roughly $38 million in salary.
While Hornets owner Michael Jordan has long ranked as a Westbrook admirer, it’s not yet clear if that would give such a trade concept more life. The scenario has nonetheless been mentioned by multiple rival teams in recent weeks and, if nothing else, illustrates the likelihood that the Lakers would largely be limited to trades in which they’re the team taking on more long-term money if they want to move off Westbrook immediately.
Westbrook is coming off of arguably the worst season of his career, so it’s not like suitors are going to be lining up for his services. If the Hornets come to the Lakers with an offer, they’ll have no choice but to consider it. Westbrook clearly didn’t fit alongside LeBron James in L.A., so a parting of ways certainly seems like the best route.
It’s fair to wonder why the Hornets would be interested in adding Westbrook, especially when they have a young, ball-dominant guard in LaMelo Ball. Westbrook showed in L.A. that he isn’t comfortable playing off ball, so his fit in Charlotte would be questionable, at best. But, if they did acquire him, it would just be for a single season, and thus not a long-term commitment. If Charlotte can justify the move internally, perhaps we’ll see Westbrook in (another) new uniform next season.