Lakers’ Russell Westbrook Deal Shifts Power Back to Los Angeles
As the N.B.A. braces for the start of free agency negotiations on Monday, a pending blockbuster trade that would send Russell Westbrook to the …
As the N.B.A. braces for the start of free agency negotiations on Monday, a pending blockbuster trade that would send Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers is already in the running to be this summer’s most impactful transaction.
The Lakers are close to acquiring Westbrook, who won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2017, from the Washington Wizards, according to an official with knowledge of the deal who was not authorized to discuss it publicly until it is finalized.
As part of the trade, Washington will receive Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, forward Montrezl Harrell, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the draft rights to Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, whom the Lakers selected with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday. The Wizards will also send two future second-round draft picks to the Lakers.
The proposed trade was first reported by The Athletic.
The trade injects more talent into the Lakers, the storied franchise that bowed out early from this year’s playoffs a season after claiming its 17th championship.
For once, a trade rumor involving Kuzma proved accurate. The Lakers’ options were limited because of salary-cap constraints and Kuzma, one of the organization’s few homegrown talents, had heard his name in possible trade scenarios for years.
The Lakers started their title defense with little rest after winning the championship over the Miami Heat during the N.B.A.’s 2020 restart at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
The short break appeared to affect the roster. The Lakers played competitively early in the 2020-21 season, but hope for a high playoff seeding faded when LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed chunks of the season because of injuries.
The Lakers defeated Golden State in a play-in game to qualify for the Western Conference’s seventh seed. The conference’s eventual winner, the Phoenix Suns, downed the Lakers, with a severely limited Davis, in six games in the first round.
Los Angeles experienced inconsistent play from its guards throughout the regular season and the playoffs. Point guard Dennis Schroder, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, scored a combined 8 points in two pivotal losses to Phoenix. Caldwell-Pope was a key cog during last year’s title run, but a bruised left knee limited him against Phoenix. Harrell, who won the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Los Angeles Clippers, received limited action in the playoff series.
The addition of Westbrook to the Lakers returns James to his tradition of playing alongside top-level guards. In Miami, James won two championships with Dwyane Wade. He won one with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
Now, he will add the 32-year-old Westbrook to his list of All-Star guard teammates. On Thursday, James shared am image of himself, Davis and Westbrook in Lakers jerseys from his Instagram account.
The Lakers still need to round out their roster by adding shooters who can space the floor, but Westbrook, a California native and walking triple-double threat, should provide an immediate boost to the team’s perimeter playmaking.
The Wizards traded for Westbrook before last season, parting with their longtime point guard John Wall in a deal with Houston. In Washington, Westbrook reunited with Scott Brooks, who had coached him in Oklahoma City.
For the fourth time in Westbrook’s 13-season career, he averaged a triple-double over a season, amassing 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game.
The Philadelphia 76ers ousted Washington from the playoffs in five games in the first round. The organization parted ways with Brooks and hired Wes Unseld Jr. The Westbrook deal offers Washington a chance to reset and flexibility as it hopes to retain shooting guard Bradley Beal, who can become a free agent next off-season.