More than two months after LeBron James and Anthony Davis first followed his wife on Instagram and prompted trade rumors that the Lakers wanted to acquire him, Russell Westbrook is finally a Laker. The 2017 MVP asked the Wizards to send him home to Los Angeles, and after several hours of public leaks and negotiations, he has gotten his wish.
The freshly opted in Montrezl Harrell is on the way to Washington, along with Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as well as the Lakers’ 22nd overall pick. The Lakers will be getting two second-round picks in return, according to Shams Charania of the Athletic:
The Washington Wizards have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook, 2024 second-round pick, 2028 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and No. 22 tonight, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 30, 2021
Our own Jacob Rude wrote earlier this week about why a Westbrook trade would be good for the Lakers, and I agree with most of this:
That Westbrook is largely a negative or neutral trade asset does not mean he is a negative or neutral player, however. Last season, he averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in the last five years. While the triple-double has lost some of its significance in recent years, it’s still a remarkable feat of productivity by Westbrook. He also helped carry a depleted Wizards team into the playoffs last season with a remarkable second half of the year
And for as much as fans love assets, trading for a proven NBA player, which Westbrook still is, sends a clear message to James, Davis and other stars across the league that the Lakers will do whatever it takes to win a title when that window is open. Westbrook is also still a game-changing player. For all his flaws, he’s a player that can enforce his will onto the game, a rare trait among players in the NBA and one the Lakers would love to have. For all the focus on what he can’t do — namely, make threes — there is a lack of focus on all the productive things he can help with, like igniting the team’s fast break and serving as another playmaker to take pressure off of James and Davis.
Westbrook’s contract is also set to expire after the 2022-23 season, the same as James’, meaning the Lakers aren’t sacrificing financial flexibility in the future either. Los Angeles would still be able to head into the 2023 offseason with Davis and a whole host of cap space to land one or two stars as well.
Westbrook wouldn’t be the perfect fit alongside James and Davis, but it doesn’t mean the Lakers can’t find success with him. Each of the last two Lakers teams, non-shooting point guards in Schröder and Rajon Rondo played prominent roles and had success at times, including winning a title with the latter. Neither of those point guards were as talented as Westbrook in other facets of the game, either.
Westbrook will also ease the offensive load on James and Davis, giving the Lakers the sort of playmaker they’ve been long-rumored to covet. He can also serve as a capable central hub of the offense on nights when LeBron sits out, and absolutely wreck teams while leading non-LeBron bench units. LeBron’s teams have often struggled when he’s not in the game because their backups can’t replicate what LeBron does. Westbrook, for all his faults, can imitate a poor man’s version of that as well as anyone in the league.
It’s also been clear for a while that the Lakers are not as concerned about shooting as many other teams around the league. Rather than prioritize shooters, they’re doubling down on their identity of athletic, organized chaos and star power. There is something to be said for knowing what you are.
Crucially, and barring some other player being included in a sign-and-trade to the Lakers if the deal is expanded, this deal allows the Lakers to avoid the hard cap, which could let them to keep players like Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso and even Dennis Schröder (although that last one seems unlikely). Still, the Lakers are more flexible with this deal than they would be if they were acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, and that is a positive.
This is a lot to give up, but the Lakers are counting on their talent and figuring out the rest later. Given that they did not seem to really have any desire to keep Schröder, acquiring Westbrook also makes sense as a way to get themselves the third star they have sought, and may have been the best of a lot of not great, hard-cap initiating sign-and-trade options in free agency.
The fit may not be perfect, but there is still a chance the Lakers can figure this out and embrace this new quick, strong and athletic identity en route to title contention. This is a worthy gamble, even if there is a chance that this much explosiveness and volatility in two offseasons since winning the title results in everything going up in flames.