Maybe someday there will be a clear explanation for why the Lakers decided to push for Russell Westbrook, to trust their stars’ desires for another All-NBA guy instead of a smaller change in the form of Buddy Hield.
Maybe it was just a short-sighted grab for more firepower. Maybe it was about asserting power and appeasing the superstars. Or maybe it was just a complete mistake, a bet that quickly fell apart.
It’s completely irrelevant now as the Lakers face a huge decision. Do the Lakers really want to come into training camp with Westbrook on their team, or are they willing to pay a big price to try and undo it?
In conversations with executives from opposing teams in both conferences, it’s clear what the cost would be for any deal. It will take at least one first-round pick to park Westbrook somewhere and a second first-round pick to bring back several rotation pieces, said sources with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. Those values could go higher (possibly with pick trades) or lower (bad contracts back to the Lakers) depending on the variables.
One of those variables, Donovan Mitchell’s status with the Utah Jazz, disappeared Thursday when the Jazz reportedly pulled off a surprise deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sending Mitchell to LeBron James’ old team for a trio of young players and first-round picks .
It formalized what many in the NBA see as the two most viable paths for the Lakers to improve now. Either the Lakers raise their offers in pursuit of a Myles Turner and Hield-centric trade to Indiana or they turn their sights back to the Jazz to try to pick the bones of a former contender to spur a rebuild.
A deal with the Jazz and Lakers could make a lot of sense for both parties.
The teams have already partnered this offseason on the Patrick Beverley-Talen Horton-Tucker deal. The Lakers have future draft picks and a need for more quality role players, which makes the Jazz seem like the right place to look for a repeat in the Westbrook trade.
(Why didn’t teams knock it out earlier? Utah had to maintain flexibility in any potential Mitchell deal. Now that it’s over, they can unload other parts).
The conversation, at least from the end of the Lakers, should probably start with the 33-year-old small forward Bojan Bogdanovic. Over the past three seasons in Utah, Bogdanovic has been a capable second-choice scorer, averaging 18.4 points while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 49.7 percent from three. He’s been one of the NBA’s most durable players since arriving in the NBA in 2014 and, at 6-foot-7, fills a need at the small forward position.
He’s not a high-end defender, but Bogdanovic is the kind of shooter that should create better driving lanes for James and Anthony Davis and give the team more offensive balance.
The Jazz, however, could look to offload Bogdanovic — who has one year of $19.55 million left on his contract — to another wing-shooting prospect (because really, almost everyone is). And a separate Bogdanovic trade could net the Jazz a projected late first-round pick instead of being part of some larger package.
Utah could also ask the Lakers for two picks and let them deal with whoever they want.
That package, with or without Bogdanovic, could include players like Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley, whom Utah acquired as part of the Rudy Gobert deal with Minnesota earlier this summer.
While those pieces aren’t the most natural — the Lakers already have too many guards — there are some real talent upgrades there.
Conley, who will make more than $22 million this season and $24 million next, saw a dip in his production in his 15th season last year. Soon to be 35, Conley averaged 13.7 points and 5.3 assists, although he shot more than 40 percent from three for the second straight season.
Clarkson, no stranger to the Lakers, also has two years left on his contract.
After winning the 2021 NBA Sixth Player of the Year award, Clarkson struggled from deep last season, shooting just 31.8% on 7.6 attempts from three in one game.
In some ways, Beasley is a similar player — albeit younger than Clarkson. He’s also a high-volume three-point shooter, albeit a much more efficient one than Clarkson. Beasley shot 37.7 percent last season, but struggled inside the arc, shooting 39.1 percent. Neither is considered a playmaker for the other, but neither would be a welcome on-ball scorer, with Beasley’s shooting and youth probably making him better.
The question, as always, remains the cost.
The Lakers have been reluctant to trade their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in any deal that doesn’t make them serious contenders for the next two seasons (when James is guaranteed to be under contract). Perhaps including Conley in a deal, given the $24 million he’s owed after this season, would allow the Lakers to assemble a small handful of top players for one final push with James. And perhaps the Lakers could push for Jared Vanderbilt, a 23-year-old defensive and rebounding specialist who recently signed with Klutch Sports, as a sweetener in any deal where they sacrifice the future first.
Also, the Lakers might still prefer a Hield-Turner trade worth two picks to any package they can cook up with the Jazz. There has also been a long flirtation with former first-round pick Cam Reddish, who the team was linked to last season at the deadline and during this offseason.
Sources say the Lakers are comfortable heading into training camp with Westbrook on their roster, hoping new coach Darvin Ham can unlock increased intensity on defense while another season with James and Davis makes life easier on offense.
The argument for that, of course, is if the Lakers can’t build on a true contender via trade this month, wait and handle it down the road either through free agency or future trades. A bad deal now that forces them to unload a future pick or two wouldn’t dramatically raise the cap on this year’s team and handcuff them even more down the road, which would be the worst-case scenario for the organization.
Still, it’s hard not to imagine how reworking Westbrook’s deal — sending the former MVP for multiple playable pieces — wouldn’t make the Lakers better in the short term.
The question on their minds, however, is whether any of the choices they face today make them good enough.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.