The Lakers dominated the news ahead of the NBA Draft on Thursday night when they completed a trade for Russell Westbrook from the Wizards. The move gives Los Angeles a fearsome, albeit aging superteam of Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis as its nucleus, but it’s also a really curious move.
Westbrook reportedly wanted a move to his native Los Angeles, and when you have a player of that caliber who wants to come, well, you find a way to make it happen. The Lakers sent Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick for Westbrook, which the Wizards will use to rebuild around Bradley Beal. While Washington’s intentions seem more obvious, there are some really interesting questions looming for the Lakers with this new super team.
No. 1: Was this the right move for the Lakers?
I mean, kind of? Look, like I said, when you can get a player of Westbrook’s caliber for a relatively cheap return, you do it — and worry about the rest later. However, it is surprising they so willingly took on another aggressive finisher at the rim, rather than find more shooting. Before the deal went down, the Lakers were rumored to be on the verge of acquiring Buddy Hield from the Kings for similar assets, a player who could have provided better spacing around LeBron and AD.
LeBron teams always thrive when they have two things: Shooting, and spacing. Westbrook doesn’t really bring either to the table. That doesn’t mean the Lakers didn’t get better, and they could be more fearsome than ever, it’s just a curious decision that will be fairly different from successful LeBron teams in the past.
No. 2: Can we call this a true “super team”?
Yes, but there are some caveats. This is worlds apart from the Nets’ big three in Brooklyn, or the (in)famous 2011 Miami Heat team when LeBron left Cleveland.
LeBron is 36-years-old. Westbrook is 32. Both are still dominant, but on the tail-end of their respective careers. This makes the prospective 2021-22 Lakers a lot more similar to the ‘95 Rockets, when they ran a big three of Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler. That team went on to win the NBA championship, but didn’t stay together for long.
No. 3: Is there enough ball to go around?
That’s going to be a major question for coach Frank Voegel to scheme around. The Lakers now have two ball dominant players who like to create themselves. Out of Westbrook and James it’s LeBron who’s more willing to change his style to fit, but there’s still an interesting mesh that needs to be made.
Is it worth LeBron sacrificing his dominance so Westbrook can shine? What about vice versa? With two stars like this there are bound to be some growing pains.
No. 4: What does this mean for Anthony Davis?
That’s perhaps the most curious part of all this. The youngest star of the trio, and unquestionably a superstar in his own right, it might be incumbent on Davis to change his style the most.
Early reports indicate a willingness to make this work on Davis’ behalf. He reportedly told Westbrook that he’d play center more often, taking a back seat offensively, if Russ came to Los Angeles. It’s clear the goal for the the team is to win a championship immediately, but that’s an interesting wrinkle to all this.
No. 5: What will the Lakers starting roster look like?
Both James and Davis have made overtures that they’re willing to make changes in order to accommodate Westbrook, and that could result in a major overhaul to the starting five. It’s early, but here’s how the Lakers starting five could look.
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Alex Caruso (assuming he re-signs)
SF: Wesley Matthews, or potential veteran signing
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
It’s a small ball lineup to be sure, but with the athletic potential to defend all five positions.
No. 6: Will this work?
There are going to be growing pains for sure, but the talent is undeniable. With James and Davis willing to take steps so Westbook can shine the Lakers have every possibility of success. Keep in mind: The Lakers were an Anthony Davis injury away from making a finals push, and they’ll presumably be healthy now.
There’s little reason to think Los Angeles won’t be back in the conversation as a finals favorite.