First, let’s get this out of the way: LeBron James and Anthony Davis wanting the Lakers to trade for Russell Westbrook is hardly breaking news. For one thing, it was already reported back in August that James preferred the Westbrook trade to the Buddy Hield one.
And, like, did anyone think Davis agreed to play more center to make room for Westbrook because he didn’t want the trade? That James and Davis hosted Westbrook for a dinner to discuss their fit because they weren’t onboard? Exactly.
But still, as this season starts to rapidly unravel before our very eyes while Westbrook gets benched by a coach who is probably about to get fired, it’s worth discussing how we ended up here. And this week, we’ve gotten a few reminders of that as everyone involved tries to anonymously pass blame to everyone else.
The first one came via veteran NBA insider Marc Stein, who reported in his latest Substack column that James and Davis both preferred the Westbrook deal to the Hield one:
Westbrook’s fit as a Laker alongside James and Davis has proven as ponderous as countless skeptics said it would be when Vogel’s bosses — at James’ and Davis’ urging — scuttled a planned trade for Sacramento’s Buddy Hield to acquire Westbrook instead.
And not only is Stein a Hall of Famer who is as reliable as they come, but in addition to being backed up by both common sense and everything I’ve heard, additionally echoing similar intel is Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, who is the always plugged in on all things Lakers.
Pincus wrote this week that James was a “significant proponent” of the Westbrook trade in his own breakdown of where things have gone wrong for the team this season (emphasis mine):
If the Westbrook move were fundamentally flawed, who is to blame?
Rob Pelinka is the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager. The decision ultimately falls on his resume.
But sources also say that James was a significant proponent for getting Westbrook. Does he bear any responsibility if he and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, applied significant pressure on the team to get it done?
Now, again, is any of this shocking? Not really. This has been mostly known for months by anyone who has been paying even a passing level of attention. But still, as we all try to properly apportion blame for this dumpster fire, it’s worth remembering that for as much as part of the reason James and Davis are here is that they get some level of say-so over personnel, this season has illustrated the drawbacks of that model.
Does that mean that everything that has gone wrong is all Davis and James’ fault? Of course not. They’re current players! They shouldn’t be expected to have the level of current knowledge and emotional removal that the best executives possess when making personnel decisions. You think they’re combing through analytics and watching tons of film? That is, quite literally, not their job!
What we can learn from this, though, is that as it turns out, there is value in having a general manager — or at least a shadow exec — with enough smarts and backbone to push back on their stars’ worst ideas. As someone who was also a significant proponent of getting Westbrook, I’m not going to claim that guy is me. I was wrong. But I’m also not in charge of the Lakers. So after the current person in that seat is done using Vogel as a meat shield for many their own roster construction errors, anyone rooting for this team should be hoping that whether it’s Pelinka, Jeanie Buss, or one of the Rambii, that whoever is still in charge when the dust settles on this disaster takes a long look at how it all went so wrong, and learns from it moving forward.