The NBA’s Triple-Double King is on the move for the third consecutive offseason.
Only hours before the 2021 NBA Draft, multiple reports emerged that the Wizards were nearing a deal to send Russell Westbrook to the Lakers, and both teams reached an agreement shortly after the first round began. Washington will receive a package from Los Angeles that includes multiple players and draft compensation.
What does this deal mean for the Lakers and Wizards? Here is a breakdown of the draft-day swap.
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Russell Westbrook trade grades
Lakers receive: Russell Westbrook, 2024 second-round pick, 2028 second-round pick
Wizards receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, 2021 first-round pick (No. 22 overall)
After winning the 2020 NBA championship inside the Florida “bubble,” Los Angeles struggled to find consistency during an injury-plagued 2020-21 season. Anthony Davis and LeBron James both missed significant time during the regular season, and despite holding a 2-1 series lead against Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs, the Davis-less Lakers ultimately fell to the Suns.
In order to maximize the championship window with James and Davis, Los Angeles general manager Rob Pelinka knew that he needed to add a significant piece to the roster this summer. Help has arrived in the form of Westbrook, who averaged 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game in Washington last season.
The advantages of adding Westbrook are obvious. The nine-time All-Star gives the Lakers another lead ballhandler to ease James’ offensive burden. He is a relentless attacker, one capable of grabbing and going off rebounds and putting the defense in difficult positions. Westbrook averaged 5.6 transition points per game in 2020-21, tied for third-best in the league with De’Aaron Fox and, oh, yeah, James. Good luck stopping Los Angeles when the James and Westbrook Train is coming down the tracks.
However, Westbrook’s flaws are just as obvious as his strengths. He is the worst high-volume 3-pointer shooter in NBA history, and opposing teams have essentially dared Westbrook to beat them from the outside, especially in the playoffs. The Lakers themselves employed that strategy against him in the “bubble.”
Russell Westbrook this postseason
12/42 on jumpers (28.6%)
3/18 on 3-pointers (16.7%)
7/15 on free throws (46.7%)
Lakers just not even guarding him pic.twitter.com/4BqlYF6T1S
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) September 7, 2020
This is a curious move considering the Lakers had previously expressed interest in Buddy Hield, a career 40.6 percent 3-point shooter who could have excelled as a spot-up threat and secondary creator alongside James and Davis. While Westbrook is a better all-around player than Hield, the Kings guard may have been a better fit and allowed the Lakers to retain one of the role players they had to send to the Wizards.
Los Angeles will still be a legitimate championship contender in 2021-22, of course. James, Davis and Westbrook will be a formidable trio. The Lakers will be expected to make a deep playoff run.
But how much does Westbrook raise this team’s ceiling? And what else can the Lakers realistically add around their stars?
Caldwell-Pope, Harrell and Kuzma are nice pieces and should allow the Wizards to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Cadwell-Pope in particular should provide a boost, as he is the exact kind of 3-and-D player Washington has needed.
But let’s not dance around the most important part of this trade for the Wizards. It gives them a chance to build around Bradley Beal and convince him to stay long term.
While some viewed the Westbrook deal as a precursor to Beal’s departure, the Wizards star has “no desire” to leave the team, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. With Beal committed, Washington’s front office can now move forward knowing it is attempting to build a playoff team, not a rebuilding one.
Not only do the Wizards have more pieces that can easily slide into the rotation, they also have more financial flexibility in the future.
This proposed trade would open up north of $25M in room for Washington in 2022/23.
The goal would for the Washington front office is to sell Beal on the future. https://t.co/J4srzsh4Nn
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 29, 2021
There is still work to be done in order to ensure Beal doesn’t want to leave the only franchise he has ever known and eventually signs a five-year, $235 million max contract next year. The Wizards have to fill the huge void at point guard, and no one would call them a true contender at the moment.
This trade is a move in the right direction, though, and creates more pathways to success than simply running it back with Westbrook.