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The Lakers emptied the war chest for Russell Westbrook in a big, but puzzling move

Scott Davis   

The Lakers emptied the war chest for Russell Westbrook in a big, but puzzling move
  • The Los Angeles Lakers traded 3 players and a draft pick for Russell Westbrook.
  • Westbrook can help the Lakers but is also an awkward fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
  • The Lakers are all-in on this core, as they have very few means to improve the roster around them.

The Los Angeles Lakers have assembled a Big Three, for better or worse.

The Lakers on Thursday agreed to a blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards, landing Russell Westbrook in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd pick in the draft, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

The deal is an all-in move from the Lakers, adding an offensive star who can take pressure off LeBron James and Anthony Davis, though his fit is questionable.

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 2025 via the Davis trade, and the Lakers traded their remaining role players to add Westbrook. The Lakers practically don't have anything left to deal.

According to Spotrac, the Lakers now have four players on their roster: James, Davis, Westbrook, and Marc Gasol. Those four players will make a combined $123.2 million next season.

The Lakers received two second-round picks in the deal, and they have restricted free agents in Talen Horton-Tucker, Kostas Antetokounmpo, and Devontae Cacok. Otherwise, they'll have to use salary-cap exceptions to fill out their roster. That means lots of aging veterans hoping for a shot at a championship, minimum-salary players with little track record, or hoping a solid rotation player will take a pay cut for them.

The trade for Westbrook can be chalked up to a last-gasp move to capitalize on James' prime. At 37, James doesn't have many years left as an elite player. Injuries to Davis and James last season showed the Lakers didn't have enough high-end talent to carry the load without their two star players. (Teams aren't as good when their two best players get injured: who knew?!)

The Lakers are all-in on this core. James, Davis, and Westbrook are under contract for at least two more years (it would be a shock if Westbrook opted out of his $47 million player option for 2022-23). Trading Westbrook won't return them much value. They have no means of making other major upgrades to the roster.

Westbrook is an iffy fit with the Lakers

Point guards like Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, and Spencer Dinwiddie are all free agents (or can be free agents) this offseason. The Lakers must have deemed that those players weren't available because nearly all would be better fits with James and Davis than Westbrook.

Westbrook's game can be overly scrutinized. Few players can match Westbrook's raw production on the court. He is now the NBA's all-time leader in triple-doubles. Westbrook averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists per game after the All-Star Game last season, while the Wizards outscored opponents with him on the floor.

Westbrook will help 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 would have led the NBA by a significant margin.

Concerns about Westbrook's ability to fit next to high-usage players are slightly overstated - he has spent the past two seasons playing with James Harden and Bradley Beal and previously played with Kevin Durant and Paul George. Those teams all made it work.

Coaches and players love his motor and competitiveness.

But that also doesn't mean the concerns about Westbrook's game aren't valid. He is the worst high-volume three-point shooter in NBA history: no other player who has taken over 3,000 three-pointers in their career has shot worse than Westbrook.

The Lakers will face an immediate dilemma over who should handle the ball the most. Give Westbrook the ball, and James' high-level offensive conducting is put to waste. Give James the ball, and defenses will sag off Westbrook, who can't make defenses pay from deep and doesn't consistently move off the ball (neither does James).

To make things work, the Lakers will likely need Davis to play a lot of center. The problem is, Davis doesn't play a lot of center. According to Basketball-Reference's position splits, Davis played center 40% of the time in 2019-20 and 10% in 2020-21. Those numbers are heading in the wrong direction, as he played center 96% of the time with the Pelicans in 2018-19 and 50% or more in the three prior seasons.

If Davis prefers to stay at power forward, the Lakers will be dangerously light on shooting. The Lakers will have to put a premium on shooting in free agency, but as mentioned, they don't necessarily have the resources to add great shooters.

The Lakers will be championship contenders again as long as they're healthy, but it is a slight surprise that they went this route so quickly, before free agency began and other options may have materialized.


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