The NBA offseason is off to a roaring start.
The Lakers will reportedly acquire former MVP Russell Westbrook and two second-round picks from the Wizards in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Thursday’s No. 22 overall pick, according to multiple reports. Westbrook, who turns 33 in November and grew up in Los Angeles before attending UCLA, averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards last season. He's averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons. Let’s grade the deal for both teams.
I don’t know about this one. The Lakers were reportedly also interested in Kings guard Buddy Hield leading up to the draft—maybe that deal still gets folded in somehow—and a shooter made much more sense next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Westbrook is obviously talented, but it’s unclear how he fits into a championship-winning context.
Perhaps LeBron is growing tired of ball-handling responsibilities—at least Russ can help with that. Otherwise, the fit is messy offensively. Is Los Angeles still going to play a center next to Davis? Can its offense survive the so-so shooting that comes with playing LeBron, Westbrook, and Davis altogether? Do the Lakers remember how they neutralized Russ in a playoff series less than two years ago?
The backbone of Los Angeles’s success the last couple seasons has been its defense. On the other hand, the Lakers shot only 35.4% from three, the 10th-worst mark from deep during the 2021 season. Folding Westbrook into that equation feels dicey at best.
The trio sounds exciting on paper. And James has shown a willingness and skill at adapting to superstar talent around him. That’s clearly the bet the Lakers are making on this triumvirate. Ultimately, it’s a risky move, especially when you consider how this trade uses up most of L.A.’s trade assets.
Also, while frustrating at times, Kuzma and KCP were still very impactful members of a championship run. Meanwhile, if Westbrook doesn’t work out, he won’t be easy to move. And his big contract basically ties him to LeBron for the rest of James’s current deal with the Lakers. With precious few years seemingly left in James’s career, the Lakers are taking a massive gamble by acquiring a talent as mercurial as Westbrook’s.
This is a sensible move for Washington. The Wizards had their moments in 2021, but the Bradley Beal-Westbrook pair wasn’t perfect.
With Beal reportedly willing to stay in D.C., this deal allows the Wizards to build around him with role players while gaining some cap flexibility. Maybe Kuzma can thrive in a bigger role with more responsibility. Caldwell-Pope will add another shooting threat and soak up possessions guarding perimeter scorers. Harrell should now be in a more consistent role. And the first-round pick could help add some young talent.
With the ceiling on the Beal-Westbrook duo not particularly high, the Wizards now have a fresh start at building around Beal.
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