The Lakers had been trying for a year to find a new home for Russell Westbrook, who was always the square-peg third star who never fit in next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis (something seemingly everyone but the Lakers front office thought was obvious back before they ever traded for Russ). However, the anchor of Westbrook’s $47.1 million contract was too much for teams, at least considering the draft pick compensation the Lakers were willing to send out as a sweetener.
That dynamic changed with less than half a season left on Westbrook’s deal (a little over $16 million remaining for a team to pay out), and Danny Ainge jumped in. The Lakers and Jazz roped in a Timberwolves team needing a shakeup to make it a three-way deal that alters the landscape in the Western Conference. Let’s look at the winners and losers from this move, starting with a breakdown of exactly what the deal looks like.
Lakers receive: D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt.
Timberwolves receive: Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, second-round picks in 2024, 2025 and 2026
Jazz receive: Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, Lakers 2027 first-round pick (1-4 protected)
WINNER: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are trying something radical: Put shooting around LeBron James.
The Lakers got better in this trade, although they may want to manage expectations. These Lakers are not the contenders their fans (and some inside their building) might hope — it’s a long way from the 13-seed to a title threat, especially in a conference that just added Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to teams that were already better than the Lakers. But Los Angeles does improve. If LeBron and Davis are healthy, nobody wants to see this team in the playoffs. A team with a puncher’s chance in any series. That’s worth sacrificing one of their future first-round picks to get there.
The Lakers get an upgrade at the point guard spot. This isn’t simple addition by subtraction, Westbrook had been solid in the sixth-man role, but the Lakers added needed shooting. D’Angelo Russell is knocking down 39.1% of his attempts from 3 this season and has hit about that same percentage on catch-and-shoot opportunities. That said, while his raw numbers look good, Russell has not passed the eye test this season, he has disrupted the Minnesota offense chasing stats in a contract year. Here’s the bottom line – the Timberwolves were 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse this season when Russell was on the court. Minnesota got outscored when he played but outscored their opponents when he sat. He’s a negative defender, which team will attack.
The hope for the Lakers has come in recent weeks when the Timberwolves (wisely) started to put their offense in the hands of Anthony Edwards. Russell showed he could work in an off-the-ball role, something not natural to a shoot-first guard, but something he will have to do next to LeBron. Russell’s contract expires after this season, so he doesn’t eat into the Lakers’ cap space this summer if they want to go big game hunting (or, with about $31 million in space, that’s more medium game hunting in today’s market).
The win for the Lakers in this trade isn’t primarily about the point guard spot, it’s about quality depth. The Lakers land a coveted shooter in Beasley (14.1 points per game this season, career 38% from 3) who fills a floor-spacing need. They also get a versatile, switchable, quality defender and rebounder in Vanderbilt who can play the four next to Anthony Davis, or some backup five while he rests.
WINNER: Minnesota Timberwolves
Mike Conley is a better fit for this team, a pass-first point guard and quality floor general. Conley can set up Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, and (once he gets healthy) Karl-Anthony Towns, getting them the rock in good spots on the floor, and is not looking for his own shot (ala Russell). He may not hunt shots but he can make them when asked. He is not the plus defender he once was, but he’s an upgrade over Russell on that end of the floor.
Conley is expensive, with $24.4 million guaranteed next season, but he’s an upgrade, and the Timberwolves also got some second-round picks. It’s worth the risk for a team trying to figure out an identity.
LOSER: Utah Jazz
This is not about Westbrook, he will be bought out and never set foot in Salt Lake City. Considering his run-ins with fans there in the past, this is a good thing for everyone.
I don’t hate this trade for the Jazz, a pivot to rebuilding was coming, even if it seemed in contrast with the team’s fast start this season. This was the kind of trade most of us expected from the Jazz all season.
What you think of this trade from Utah’s perspective depends on what you think of the first-round pick the Lakers send to Utah, a top-four protected 2027 first-rounder. That is a valuable pick, and it lands after LeBron has retired (probably, it looks like he could play forever). For my money, the Jazz could have done a little better, either remove the protections on that pick (if it doesn’t convey in 2027 it becomes a second-rounder that season), or maybe one of those other second-rounders the Jazz landed. After the hauls that Danny Ainge got for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, this felt a little flat. But it’s not terrible.
ASK AGAIN LATER: Russell Westbrook
It’s too early to write the last chapters of the Westbrook saga. He is about to be a free agent and the market for his services — and what he perceives the market for his services will be — is going to be fascinating.
If he is under the impression teams are lining up to bring him in as a core scoring option, a top-three player on their roster, he is in for a rude awakening (I don’t think he believes that). If he is willing to accept the sixth-man playmaking role he filled with the Lakers — and take less money than he thinks he deserves — then there are good fits around the league. How this trade works out for him depends upon where he lands. The Clippers and Bulls are known to be interested in his services, they are likely not alone.
WINNERS: Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley
They have gone from quality role players in a small market outside the spotlight to bigger roles in a much brighter spotlight in Los Angeles. They are winners because this is an opportunity — a long history of guys have played their way into bigger contracts by meshing with LeBron James or standing out in Los Angeles (or both, hello Alex Caruso). What comes next for this duo is a huge opportunity that could take their careers to the next level. Will they grab it?