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It doesn’t take a scholar to figure out where the Lakers sit on the current Los Angeles sports spectrum.
As the Rams gear up to host Super Bowl LVI Sunday against the Bengals, the Lakers continue to struggle. Tuesday’s night’s 131-116 defeat to the defending NBA Champion Bucks at Crypto.com Arena was the Lakers’ 10th loss in their last 15 games. Los Angeles (26-29) now sits ninth in the Western Conference, on the outside looking in of the playoffs.
Tuesday was also just the 18th game the trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook played on the same court together. The latter’s game has been ridiculed to the point where he may be on his way out ahead of the NBA’s Trade Deadline Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reports that the Lakers feel an urgency to make changes before the deadline.
This variation of a “Big Three” clearly hasn’t worked, but trading Westbrook brings along challenges. Start with his contract, which pays him $44.2 million this season and $47 million next season. A hard sell for teams looking to acquire the veteran who may be on the down slope.
The Lakers also don’t have significant draft capital to include along with Westbrook. Due to the NBA’s Stepien rule, which prevents first-rounders from being moved in back-to-back years, the earliest first-round pick the Lakers can offer is in 2027.
Westbrook, 33, was benched for the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night after shooting 3-of-11 from the field for 10 points with 10 rebounds and five assists. Westbrook’s February has been a nightmare — shooting 28/15/55% in his last four games with 14 turnovers.
He appeared frustrated with the benching from head coach Frank Vogel after the game.
“You never know when you’re coming in, you never know when you’re coming out. You never know when you’re playing, you never know… a bunch of things,” Westbrook said, via SBNation’s Harrison Faigen. “And I’m speaking for me personally, so it’s a difficult process to be able to figure out and create some rhythm and some consistency where we can actually see what we’re able to do as a team, but those decisions are made by him and his coaching staff, and you’ve got to live with it and move on.”
The benching is nothing new, as Vogel opted not to use Westbrook down the stretch during Los Angeles’ 122-115 victory over the Knicks Saturday. He was asked postgame what “benchmark” he needs to hit to be in the closing lineup, in which the 2016-17 MVP chuckled.
“I shouldn’t have to hit any benchmarks, to be honest. I put a lot of work in. I got a lot of respect in this game. I earned the right to be in closing lineups,” Westbrook said. “Numbers would say, I don’t have to explain that. Like I said, once again, it ain’t my decision … Unfortunately, just gotta go with and figure it out the best I can and be there for my teammates as much as I can and make sure I come into work and do my job.”
With a trade seemingly unlikely, the Lakers will have to learn how to use Westbrook during the remaining 27 games of the regular season.
“I want to help AD. I want to help Russ. AD wants to help me help Russ and Russ wants to help us,” James said. “Lately, Russ hasn’t felt like he’s had an opportunity or with an opportunity given, he hasn’t helped us as much as he’d like. We haven’t done a great job of helping him.”
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