NBA AM: Westbrook and Durant to the Lakers?


Meet You In LA?

The folks over at ESPN have always been good at generating conversation. Some of the personalities that they have built popular television programs around are great at creating content. That’s not to say those on the journalism side are not great journalists, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see what the television side has become. It’s a self-feeding monster that, at times, is more concerned with sensationalism than it is accuracy.

Unfortunately, Stephen A. Smith, once a great writer and reporter, has fallen into this hype-over-substance model.

Smith laid an egg on a popular ESPN radio show in Los Angeles suggesting that not only would Thunder star Kevin Durant consider signing in L.A. with the Lakers, but that his current teammate Russell Westbrook would likely join him in 2017 as well.

“Keep in mind this,” Smith said on the “Mason and Ireland” show in LA. “One of the biggest reasons I’m told that Kevin Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list is because the Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know, but the Lakers have been led to believe that it is a very good chance that the following year Russell Westbrook is coming.”

Smith went on to say that the idea of Durant and Westbrook staying together was very real.

“This notion that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ain’t tight, that they don’t want to play together, that is a lie,” he said. “They love each other, and they love being on the same team. … And if it so happens to be in the L.A. market, all the better.”

I deliberately used the word egg in describing this interview because it has since hatched and become a thing. It’s a thing the folks on ESPN television can now talk about incessantly.

Let’s forget for a second that nothing in the statement is anything more than wishful thinking from the Lakers’ perspective.

“Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list…”

“The Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know…”

“If it so happens to be in the L.A. market, all the better.”

There is nothing contained in this commentary to suggest anything of substance from Durant’s side or even Westbrook’s side. This commentary is simply the dream scenario from the Lakers, framed solely through the prism of the Lakers.

A league source chuckled at the idea, saying if Durant and Westbrook wanted to remain together, they’d earn more staying right where they are.

The same source said that while Durant may explore his free agent options in 2016, there is a growing sense that Durant may be more open to signing a one-and-one deal, where he takes one fully guaranteed year and a player option year and remains in Oklahoma City for one more year. Such a deal ties his own free agency to Westbrook’s in 2017 when the salary cap goes up again.

Taking the one-and-one route ensures Durant sees all of the fruits of the pending salary cap jumps, while allowing him to finish what he started in Oklahoma City without being handcuffed to the franchise in the long-term, similar to what LeBron James has done in Cleveland.

With Durant having pocketed more than $200 million in upfront payments on his new Nike shoe deal and more than $100 million to come, Durant has the financial security to make his own choices independent of the financial impact.

Durant has been fairly open that he is not actively thinking about this summer and that he plans to be thorough in his thinking after the season is over.

While the L.A. Lakers would love to land Durant, the idea that some elaborate plan has been formulated by Durant and Westbrook is almost laughable.

However, that’s what ESPN has been great at doing. They take an idea, however far fetched, and breathe life into it so that all of us will talk about it.

Getting The Verbiage Right

With the 2016 NBA Trade deadline less than 16 days away, more and more conversations on the trade front are going to surface.

While the words used to describe one team’s interest in another team’s players often get interchanged, it’s important to point out that not everything is what it seems this close to the trade deadline.

Buyer and Sellers

At the end of the day, every trade is a transaction that involves someone getting something and someone giving up something, so both sides are really buyers, but the term “buyer” in the trade context is used for those teams looking to take on talent or more salary.

The term “seller” is for those teams that are looking to move a contract or several pieces. That’s not to say that a seller is just giving away what they have, but they are the team that’s a bit more motivated to make a deal and is likely talking with a handful of possible trade partners.

In the current market, the Phoenix Suns are sellers. They have a couple of guys they would be willing to move, the biggest being Markieff Morris.

The Boston Celtics are also sellers. They have a ton of duplication and are looking to upgrade if possible. They have a pocket full of draft picks and seem willing to package picks with players to get a serious talent in return.

The L.A. Lakers are sellers. They have a number of veterans that they would be willing to move in order to gain better fitting pieces for where they are in their rebuild.

The Orlando Magic are buyers. Their season has gotten away from them recently and they are open to taking on a couple of new faces, though not likely at the expense of their young core. However, the Magic seem far more open to change today than they did a month ago.

The Sacramento Kings are buyers. They too are open to making a splashy change; however, they are not going to trigger a deal just to make a move. They want to add another serious piece to the team, but the trade has to make sense.

The Shoppers

While some teams want to make a deal, other teams are on the fence. Those teams are looking for ways to improve, but are not necessarily going to make a move. Those teams are shopping for opportunities and could sit out the market just as easily as they could make a deal in it.

The Atlanta Hawks are shoppers. They are open to ideas on a trade. They have several players who get mentioned in trade rumors, but they are not eager to make a deal and for the Hawks it is all about what they could get in return.

The Miami HEAT are shoppers. The HEAT are not being overly aggressive, but sources close to the process say they are sniffing around for a deal and if something interesting comes their way, they would explore it. Miami has a number of ending contracts and a couple of favorable bench options. The HEAT are not overly engaged at this point with anyone specific, so there is a sense Miami could end up doing nothing.

The New York Knicks have been shoppers all year, looking mainly for a point guard. With so little to really offer in the market place, the Knicks are hoping something falls their way, which may not happen given where the market stands today.

Specific Player Targeting

Most teams have a white board in their front office that shows the rosters of every team on magnetic strips. These boards are usually arranged by roster depth, some with salary valuation.

The name of the game in trade planning is understanding who can be had. That’s the routine leg work assistant general managers and player personnel staff do throughout the season. This involves having casual conversations with other teams’ executives about what they are looking for and who they are thinking about parting with.

The dangerous thing in trades is falling in love with a specific player. Unless it’s a top-level guy, most teams settle into positional needs. They’ll say, ‘We need a starting point guard,’ and begin looking at players that fit that need (and then internally narrow down their pool of potential targets based on salary, style of play, etc.). Calling a team about a specific player is going to raise the price and a lot of times having multiple names in the market helps keep the compensation somewhat reasonable.

Most trades start in the abstract and evolve into a specific offer over time. As the deadline gets closer, there is some poker to be played. However, most general managers understand the value of a good, balanced deal, where each side gets what they need.

Eventually every NBA team will do business together at some point, so trying to get one over on a team or trying to steal players away with shady offers usually kills relationships. This is the reason you generally see certain GMs deal with other certain GMs more frequently; there’s trust there – not to mention more conversations if the two individuals have a strong relationship.

It’s important to note that while specific players make their way to the rumor mill, teams usually avoid getting into specific names until there is a real deal to be made. Equally, a ‘no chance’ can turn into ‘let’s deal’ in a heartbeat this close to the deadline. It’s always about the offer. Very few players are completely untouchable.

Over the next three weeks, you can expect things to heat up a little on the trade front, especially with the entire NBA off during the All-Star break. That’s when teams really hunker down on the trade market.

The 2016 NBA trade deadline is February 18 at 3 p.m. EST.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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