The Lakers' decision to bring in Russell Westbrook fulfilled the front office’s long-time goal of pairing a third star with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. A journey that started with their pursuit of Kawhi Leonard after trading for Davis, the Lakers have long sought the final piece of a Big Three.
However, that move came only after a dramatic last-minute switch on draft night. After all signs pointed to the Lakers completing a trade for Buddy Hield of the Kings, the team turned on a dime to acquiring Westbrook, a move that reportedly blindsided those players involved in the former deal.
On top of their desire to acquire a third star, a desire to please one of the stars they had may have reportedly played a role, too. On his appearance on “The Lowe Post” podcast with Zach Lowe on Monday, Dave McMenamin of ESPN revealed that James preferred the deal for Westbrook over the deal for Hield.
“My reporting (is) that certainly LeBron James was in favor of this Russ move over the Buddy Hield move. Is it because he recognizes that perhaps the Lakers didn’t have enough playmaking and that’s kind of been a point of emphasis he’s had since the ‘16-17 season... The question is, though, did he want Russ because he recognizes he’s about to be a 19-year NBA veteran who turns 37 in December and needs someone to take some of the load off him. Maybe that’s the best thing, that he has somebody he can trust that he will hand over some of the load, too. But at the same time, are the Lakers a championship team if LeBron isn’t plus-plus LeBron.
James’ desire to have a secondary playmaker alongside him was one of the driving forces in having Rajon Rondo on the Lakers in his first two years in Los Angeles. And, in his defense, the Lakers won a title with Rondo playing a major role. From that standpoint, James preferring Westbrook over Hield has merits.
In a star-driven league, Westbrook is one. His flaws are as loud as his strengths but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a supremely talented player. For a Lakers team that has been focused on being bigger, faster and stronger than their opponents, Westbrook represents all three of those things at the point guard position.
While Hield would have upgraded the Lakers shooting, Westbrook falls in line with the vision of the front office and general manager Rob Pelinka and with James. It’s a gamble that will play out on the court for at least the upcoming season and potentially the next two as the Lakers look to maximize their championship window while it’s still open.