Russell Westbrook (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are gone, but the Utah Jazz’s teardown may not be done.
Veterans Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gay are still on the roster. Even the recently acquired Malik Beasley (25) may be a little old for the Jazz’s rebuild timeline.
All of the above can help win-now teams to varying degrees, one of which may be the Los Angeles Lakers.
“League sources indicate a market for Bogdanovic at the very least, of which there is significant interest for the 6-foot-8 shooting forward,” The Athletic‘s Tony Jones wrote on Wednesday. “But, the Jazz at this point don’t appear to be particularly close to a trade that could land them even more assets and consolidate the roster, although there are ongoing talks with the Los Angeles Lakers.”
For weeks (maybe even months), Utah and LA had seemed like natural trade partners.
Russell Westbrook proved to be a terrible fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis last season. The Jazz have at least two players in Conley and Bogdanovic that seem tailor-made for the Lakers roster, and playing for a team at the outset of a rebuild makes no sense for either.
The oft-rumored Indiana Pacers deal that involves Myles Turner and Buddy Hield may offer the Lakers more long-term upside, but a trade with the Jazz would almost certainly make them better, too. And even if Jazz CEO Danny Ainge has driven hard bargains all summer, the fact that the two sides are still engaged suggests something may happen.
There’s a sliding scale for what that “something” might be, though. We’ll look at three points on the scale below.
Best-Case Scenario: Pacers Relent
Jones covers the Jazz, so he made no mention of whether the Lakers are still engaged with the Pacers as well. It wouldn’t make sense for the Lakers to shut down communication with the team that can offer a slightly more enticing trade, though.
LA should be negotiating with both Utah and Indiana. If it reaches the threshold of an agreement with Utah, it should call Indiana and tell the front office it has one more chance to take a draft pick and the financial flexibility that acquiring Westbrook can provide.
The Pacers digging in their heels and refusing to trade both Turner and Hield for one pick and an expiring contract wouldn’t be surprising. For them, it might even be the right move.
But Indiana should be every bit as motivated as Utah to pile up losses this season. Having Turner and Hield in the rotation is antithetical to that goal.
If the Pacers want to join the race to the bottom in earnest, moving difference-making veterans for less-than-stellar value shouldn’t be off the table.
Sure, they’d prefer to have an extra pick down the road, but increased lottery odds for the likes of Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson or Ausar Thompson may be worth overlooking that.
Worst-Case Scenario: Lakers Do Nothing
The Lakers overplaying their hand and ending up with Westbrook on the roster for the start of the regular season is a potential mess. There’s no way around it.
Yes, Westbrook played fewer than 1,000 non-garbage time possessions with LeBron and AD last season, but LA had an underwhelming minus-3.0 net rating with those lineups. The team was 31-47 when he played, and his effective field-goal percentage was a cringeworthy 5.6 percentage points below the league average.
The evidence is pretty overwhelming. And even if that wasn’t enough, the Lakers acquired Westbrook’s longtime rivalPatrick Beverley, earlier this summer.
Even if they’re saying all the right things Now, The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported what we were all thinking in the wake of the Beverley deal: “Beverley’s arrival makes it more likely that Westbrook will be off the active roster by the start of training camp, either through a trade or the team sending him home a la the Rockets with John Wall last season, according to a source close to the situation.”
Just imagine the degree to which that awkwardness intensifies if the Lakers don’t send Westbrook home and Beverley eventually takes his starting spot.
The whole thing feels untenable, especially when you layer on how bad the team was with Westbrook in action last season.
Likeliest Scenario: Jazz and Lakers Find a Deal
There is plenty of motivation for both Utah and LA to find a suitable trade.
The Jazz should want to lose. A lot. But that isn’t all that the first season of a rebuild should accomplish. On-court development and reps for the new young (or young-ish) core of players that includes Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Walker Kessler and more should be a priority.
Having Conley, Bogdanovic, Clarkson and Gay on the roster doesn’t necessarily make that impossible, but it at least makes it trickier. Moving some combination of them for picks and buying out the last year of Westbrook’s deal clears the path for youth and lineup experimentation.
For the Lakers, reluctance to include both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks is understandable, but this is sort of what you sign up for when you have LeBron. It means you’re in win-now mode, all the time.
And really, what’s worse? Losing a shot at a hypothetical player seven years from now who may or may not be good? Or, being bad to mediocre with $40-plus million in salary sitting at home?
Being able to deploy a Conley-Beverley-Bogdanovic-James-Davis lineup may not put the Lakers in the same tier as teams like the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns right away, but it would get them far closer than they are right now.
In that situation, LeBron and AD would once again be the unquestioned focal points, as they were in 2020. And they’d be surrounded by plenty of shooting.
If LeBron hasn’t already had his last real shot at a championship, there aren’t many left. LA has to go for it.