Russell Westbrook is going home — and LeBron James got his big-name secondary ball handler.
Westbrook was traded to the Lakers in a blockbuster trade that had been in the works for a couple of days (but seemed would not happen). LeBron James was pumped.
The full trade had the Lakers getting Westbrook, a 2024 second-round pick, and a 2028 second-round pick; the Wizards receive Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and the Lakers’ No. 22 pick in Thursday’s draft, which Washington traded again to the Pacers to get Aaron Holiday.
Who were the winners and losers in the Westbrook trade? Let’s break it all down.
Winner: Russell Westbrook
He wanted out of Washington, he wanted to go to a contender, and he ideally wanted to get back home to Los Angeles. Check, check, and check. The Lakers are the best team he has been on since Oklahoma City, and he has a shot at getting back to the NBA Finals. Beyond that, for a guy who is focused on fashion and his brand, he is now in one of the best fashion cities in the world, a place where marketing and branding opportunities are around every corner. This is everything Westbrook could have hoped for in an escape package from Washington.
Winner: The Lakers in the regular season
Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine, a guy who plays hard every possession, every night, which can help win games during the regular season. The Lakers have been looking for someone to take some of the shot creation load off LeBron’s plate — Rajon Rondo did it in the bubble playoffs, but outside that nobody has done it consistently — and now they have their man in Westbook. He will have the ball in his hands when LeBron is on the bench. Westbrook can step in and run the offense on the nights LeBron or Anthony Davis are getting a DNP-rest (or maybe missing a game or two due to an injury). He had a stretch through the middle of last season where he played at an All-Star, maybe All-NBA, level, and that Westbrook helps the Lakers rack up more wins in the first 82 games.
Loser: The Lakers in the playoffs
Two years ago, in the Western Conference playoffs in the bubble, the Lakers faced the Westbrook/James Harden Rockets. Los Angeles’ defensive strategy? Load up on Harden, get the ball out of his hands, leave Westbrook wide open on the perimeter and dare him to beat you with his jumper. The Lakers won the series 4-1, and Westbrook shot 25.9% from 3 during it (he’s a career 30.5% from beyond the arc). The Lakers will face that same problem from the other side in the postseason: Teams will ignore Westbrook on the perimeter. He is a career 40.8% shooter overall in the playoffs — he’s not efficient under the brightest of lights. Teams will help off him. Also, teams will pack the paint and dare Los Angeles to beat them from the outside — the two Lakers who made the most threes last year were Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope.
None of this even touches Westbrook’s defensive lapses. The Lakers title and identity the past two seasons has been defense first, and Westbrook gets a few steals thanks to hustle but is generally a liability on that end of the floor with some ugly lapses.
Part of the lack of spacing can be alleviated by how Rob Pelinka rounds out the rest of the Los Angeles roster — they desperately need shooting. Defense can be addressed in free agency, too. It won’t be easy or cheap: LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook combined to make $120.8 million next season, the salary cap is expected to be around $112 million, the luxury tax like close to $137 million. The Lakers can afford to go into the tax, but it ties their hands with the size offerings they can make (only a $5.9 million tax-payer mid-level exception). Maybe a Dennis Schroder sign-and-trade can help bring back some shooting and quality role players, but the Lakers are going to have to get creative in adding talent.
Winner: Washington Wizards
They were already winners because Bradley Beal didn’t ask for a trade. Now comes this Westbrook trade, in which the Wizards improve their woeful depth and save $6 million in the process. It makes them a little better on the court now, but it also gives them the flexibility to make trades — it’s hard to move Westbrook’s $44 million, much easier to move guys who make between $9.7 and $14 million. Washington still needs to put a lot more talent around Beal, but this trade makes that seem more possible.
Loser: Buddy Hield
The Kings’ sharpshooter wants out of Sacramento and almost landed with the Lakers for a package not that much different than what it took to get Westbrook. Momentum was building toward a Hield trade when the Westbrook offer suddenly caught the Lakers’ focus and changed everything. So now Hield is back in Sacramento, at least for the time being, and both sides are a little frustrated with that.