Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Biggest Questions (and Answers) from Blockbuster Lakers Russell Westbrook Trade

Eric Pincus

When news broke that Montrezl Harrell had decided to opt into the final year of his contract (per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski), it looked like Buddy Hield to the Los Angeles Lakers was a lock.

Instead, minutes later, Shams Charania of The Athletic broke a Russell Westbrook trade request, and word broke that the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers are nearing a deal for the All-Star point guard.

So what happened? Should we be surprised by the quick about-face? 

And what happens next, specifically for the Lakers, who add a third star to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis but lose valuable depth in doing so?

What Happened with the Hield Deal?

Per NBA sources, the Lakers went into the offseason with a clear Plan A: unrealistic hopes of landing a Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. Plan B was Chris Paul (but then the Phoenix Suns advanced to the NBA Finals) and Westbrook. Hield was always Plan C.

Over the past few weeks, the Lakers pursued Westbrook and Hield in parallel conversations with the Wizards and Sacramento Kings. As the draft neared, the Wizards seemed content to wait on big decisions with Beal and Westbrook.

That pushed Hield to the forefront. But even as the possibility of a deal built around Kyle Kuzma and Harrell began to form, the Lakers kept the door open to a Westbrook deal.

Westbrook asserted his voice into the conversation, and per an NBA source, the Wizards pivoted. Just like that, the pieces the Kings liked for Hield were no longer available.

Could Hield Still Come to LA?

Technically, Hield could still end up with the Lakers, but the likelihood just got more complicated. The Lakers only have five players under contract outside of James and Davis: the three reportedly headed to the Wizards, plus Marc Gasol and Alfonzo McKinnie.

The Lakers can't get a Hield deal done trading just Gasol and McKinnie. Not only does it fail under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s not nearly enough value back to the Kings for the shooting guard.

The answer would lie in a sign-and-trade.

Is a Sign-and-Trade in play with Dennis Schroder?

Today, no, that's non-negotiable. The Lakers can negotiate an extension with Schroder but cannot negotiate a new contract that relies on the guard hitting free agency.

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

But the Lakers can talk a sign-and-trade for Schroder as of Aug. 2, possibly growing the Washington deal to a multi-team agreement that could return Hield.

But why would Schroder work with Los Angeles? If he can get a team like the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors to use cap room to give him a deal, there's not much the Lakers can do but watch him leave without compensation.

Schroder will be competing with several other free agents at the same position, including Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, Mike Conley, Spencer Dinwiddie and Paul (if he opts out of his final year).

"He may get squeezed," a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report.

If he does, Schroder may need the Lakers' help to get a suitable payday via sign-and-trade. But the other side of the coin is Sacramento. If they're not getting Kuzma and Harrell, are they interested in sending Hield to the Lakers?

The Kings already have De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. They don't need Schroder, but maybe he's a piece the Wizards consider (or the trade grows to a fourth team).

According to a former Western Conference executive, the Wizards highly value Caldwell-Pope but may be open to either Kuzma, Harrell or both rerouted to another team. Would that team be Sacramento?

It's a lot to assume, but it's among the many possibilities.

Note that the Lakers can sign-and-trade a player away like Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso or Schroder, but with their expected payroll, they won’t be able to acquire a player to join the team via sign-and-trade.

What's the Cap Space Situation for the Lakers if Westbrook Happens?

With Westbrook, the Lakers will have $120.8 million going to just three players next season in James, Davis and Westbrook. The salary cap projects to be $112.4 million, so the franchise is sure to climb above the $136.6 million tax line.

Because of several factors (the Lakers' current hard cap, Kuzma's extension starting Aug. 2), L.A. cannot execute the deal until after the moratorium on Aug. 6. Based on the reported details, the Lakers will have just five players with Gasol and McKinnie.

Look for the Lakers to keep as many free agents as possible, including Caruso, Horton-Tucker, Wes Matthews, Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley and possibly Ben McLemore. Schroder may leave in free agency, but a sign-and-trade would help the Lakers bring back additional talent to flesh out the roster.

The team will have about $5.9 million to spend via the taxpayer mid-level exception. They could try to re-sign Andre Drummond, but that may not be enough to retain the free-agent center. The Lakers don't have the right to pay him more since they added late in the season on the buyout market.

Expect Caruso and Horton-Tucker to get closer to $10 million a season to stay, while the other potential returnees should be closer to minimum deals.

All told, the Lakers will be looking at a significant luxury-tax bill—a significant investment to try and win now.

Most significant Needs, Possible Vet Additions

If the Lakers keep Caruso and Horton-Tucker, ball-handling should be covered along with Westbrook and James.

The Lakers need to add shooting, which is why they were chasing Hield. That need only grew with the Westbrook deal. Look for the franchise to pursue shooters in free agency like JJ Redick, Wayne Ellington or former Lakers draft pick Svi Mykhailiuk.

Would JJ Redick take a discount to play with Westbrook, James and Davis? Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

If the mid-level doesn't go to Drummond, they may try and land a player like Otto Porter Jr. (though he may be looking for more than the Lakers can offer), Doug McDermott, Reggie Bullock, Malik Monk, Bryn Forbes or Furkan Korkmaz.

Los Angeles could use defensive help on the wing to replace what's lost with Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma, and both Porter and Bullock can defend and shoot. Other possibilities could include Trevor Ariza, Josh Hart and Garrett Temple.

If DeMar DeRozan wants to come home to Los Angeles for cheap, the Lakers wouldn’t have much to offer but would probably welcome him despite his poor outside shot. DeRozan may be a longshot, but don't count out Carmelo Anthony as a bench scorer.

The Lakers also need additional size, which could mean the return of Dwight Howard. Perhaps the Lakers look at Kelly Olynyk, Aron Baynes (if the Toronto Raptors waived his non-guaranteed contract), Daniel Theis, DeMarcus Cousins or JaVale McGee.

If Schroder does end up in Washington via sign-and-trade, perhaps the Lakers can try and pry Davis Bertans.

Does the Talent Trump Spacing Issues?

Hield was a better fit from a traditional point of view as a shooter, but Westbrook will help the Lakers get more wins. He’s just a better all-around player.

The Lakers won the title two seasons ago as a poor shooting team. The Milwaukee Bucks struggled to hit shots throughout the NBA Finals but can boast a championship.

Coach Frank Vogel is more interested in getting his roster to an elite level defensively, which taxes shooters’ legs in a playoff series. Giving James another high-usage playmaker will make defending the Lakers' All-Star that much harder to handle.

Westbrook is one of the most aggressive scoring point guards in the league. He's also a triple-double machine. The Lakers should compete at a higher level in the minutes James sits with Westbrook and Davis on the floor together.

The danger is that Westbrook will do too much, ignoring James and Davis in critical moments, but James fared well with Kyrie Irving, who also played like he believed he was the best player on the court.

Westbrook and James have a longer, closer relationship, and the Lakers will be more than fine despite some of Westbrook's shortcomings.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

   

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