With their trade for Russell Westbrook as official as it can be until the new league year starts on Aug. 6, reports are starting to surface about how the Lakers and Washington Wizards came together on a deal so quickly.
The Lakers had been linked to Westbrook this offseason before, obviously, but it was mostly thought that it would take a Bradley Beal trade demand for the Wizards to send him elsewhere. That obviously is not what happened, so how did all of this end up with Westbrook in purple and gold in what seemed like the span of a few short hours?
Well, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, the Lakers had Westbrook high on their priority list for a while, even if he wasn’t their first option or original dream offseason acquisition:
Per NBA sources, the Lakers went into the offseason with a clear Plan A: unrealistic hopes of landing a Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. Plan B was Chris Paul (but then the Phoenix Suns advanced to the NBA Finals) and Westbrook. Hield was always Plan C.
The main takeaway from that is not just that the Lakers wanted Westbrook more than Hield; that much was obvious from how quickly the reports pivoted from them acquiring Hield to finalizing a deal for Westbrook. It’s also worth noting that Westbrook was their top option of the players that actually ended up being available to them (Paul never really seemed to be, and the price for Lillard or Beal will be too high, and they haven’t even demanded out). That says a lot about how much they valued the 2017 MVP.
But they needed more than just to want Westbrook. They needed him to reciprocate that interest, which according to Pincus was what changed things rapidly on draft day:
Over the past few weeks, the Lakers pursued Westbrook and Hield in parallel conversations with the Wizards and Sacramento Kings. As the draft neared, the Wizards seemed content to wait on big decisions with Beal and Westbrook.
That pushed Hield to the forefront. But even as the possibility of a deal built around Kyle Kuzma and Harrell began to form, the Lakers kept the door open to a Westbrook deal.
Westbrook asserted his voice into the conversation, and per an NBA source, the Wizards pivoted. Just like that, the pieces the Kings liked for Hield were no longer available.
As Pincus noted in his story, that doesn’t mean that Hield will be off the table. There are complicated ways the deal could still be expanded to include him, even if they don’t appear super likely right now. You can read his story for the full breakdown.
But what feels more meaningful here is that the Lakers valued Westbrook more than any player not named Chris Paul, Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal this summer. That’s despite his shooting issues, and their own long-range woes in the postseason. For as much as some on the outside worry about his fit and what Westbrook will do to the team’s spacing, it just does not seem to be the Lakers’ primary concern, if this is how they ranked their potential options. They are a lot more focused on what he can do well than what he can’t.
Whether that approach works out for them or not remains to be seen, but it says something about both the team’s own internal values and viewpoints that they felt that way. They may still add some more shooters in free agency, but it’s certainly not the quality they value most. They want star power, athleticism and playmakers, and aren’t going to prioritize fit over talent. They want the best players, and to figure the rest out later.