The Lakers emptied the war chest for Russell Westbrook in a big, but puzzling move
Russell Westbrook is now a Laker. Casey Sykes / Getty Images
The Los Angeles Lakers traded 3 players and a draft pick for Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook can help the Lakers but also clumsily fits in with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers are all-in at this core as they have very few opportunities to improve the roster around them.
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The Los Angeles Lakers have put together a Big Three for better or for worse.
The Lakers hit a blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards on Thursday, landing Russell Westbrook in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the 22nd pick on the draft, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
The deal is an all-in move from the Lakers that adds an offensive star who can put pressure on LeBron James and Anthony Davis despite its fit being in question.
The Lakers have nothing left
The Lakers essentially emptied the war chest to make the move. The New Orleans Pelicans control the Lakers' draft picks through the Davis Trade through 2025, and the Lakers traded their remaining role-players to add Westbrook. The Lakers have practically nothing left to do.
According to Spotrac, the Lakers now have four players on their roster: James, Davis, Westbrook and Marc Gasol. These four players will collectively earn $ 123.2 million over the next season.
The Lakers received two second-round picks as part of the deal, and they have restricted free agents in Talen Horton-Tucker, Kostas Antetokounmpo and Devontae Cacok. Otherwise, they will have to use salary cap exemptions to fill out their roster. That means many aging veterans are hoping for a chance at a championship, minimum salary players with a low track record, or hoping that a solid rotating player will accept a pay cut for them.
Trading for Westbrook can be described as the final move to capitalize on James' prime. At 37, James has run out of years as an elite player. Davis and James' injuries last season showed that the Lakers didn't have enough high-end talent to carry the burden without their two star players. (Teams aren't that good when their top two players get injured: who would have thought ?!)
The Lakers are all-in at this core. James, Davis and Westbrook are under contract for at least two more years (it would be a shock if Westbrook were to opt out of its $ 47 million player option for 2022-23). Trading with Westbrook doesn't bring them back much value. You have no option to make any other major upgrades to the roster.
Westbrook is dubiously a match for the Lakers
Derick Hinge / AP Images
Point guards like Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, and Spencer Dinwiddie are all free agents (or may be free agents) this off-season. The Lakers must have thought these players weren't available because almost all of them would be a better fit for James and Davis than Westbrook.
Westbrook's game can be overly scrutinized. Few players can compete with Westbrook's raw production on the pitch. He is now the NBA's all-time leader in the triple-double. Westbrook averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists per game after last season's All-Star Game, while the Wizards outdid opponents with him on the floor.
Westbrook will be helping the Lakers, one of the slowest teams last season, get some easy transition baskets. With Westbrook on the floor last season, the Wizards played at a pace that the NBA would have led by a clear margin.
Concerns about Westbrook's ability to fold alongside heavily used players are being exaggerated - he's spent the last two seasons with James Harden and Bradley Beal, and previously played with Kevin Durant and Paul George. All of these teams made it.
Both coaches and players love its engine and its competitiveness.
But that doesn't mean the concerns about Westbrook's game aren't valid either. He's the worst high-volume three-point shooter in NBA history: no other player who's shot over 3,000 three-pointers in his career has shot worse than Westbrook.
The Lakers are about to face a dilemma as to who should handle the ball the most. Give Westbrook the ball and James' high-level offensive demeanor will be undone. Give the ball to James and the defense will be slumped by Westbrook, who can't let the defense pay from the depths and doesn't keep moving off the ball (neither does James).
For things to work, the Lakers will likely need Davis to play center a lot. The problem is, Davis doesn't play center that much. According to Basketball Reference's position splits, Davis played 40% of the time in 2019-20 and 10% of the time in 2020-21. Those numbers go in the wrong direction as he played 96% of the time with the Pelicans in 2018-19 and 50% or more in the previous three seasons.
If Davis prefers to stay in power, the Lakers will be dangerously easy at shooting. The Lakers need to give shooting a high profile in the free agency, but as mentioned, they don't necessarily have the resources to add great shooters.
The Lakers will again be contenders for the championship while they're healthy, but it's a bit of a surprise they went that route so quickly before the free agency started and other options came up.
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