The game of All-Star musical chairs continues.
Though the deal has yet to be finalized, the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards have reportedly zeroed in on a deal that would send former MVP Russell Westbrook to the Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a 2021 first-round pick (though the exact terms seem to still be in flux as of writing this).
The deal marks the third-straight summer in which Westbrook has been dealt to a new team (he was sent to the Rockets in 2019 and the Wizards in 2020). He became the all-time leader in triple-doubles this past season in Washington, but the uber-athletic point guard has proven to be a bit of a rough-fitting puzzle piece throughout his career. How he’ll fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis is a perplexing question.
It’s no secret that Westbrook is at his best when the ball is in his hands and he’s surrounded by shooters. In LA, he’ll be walking onto a roster that features one of the most ball-dominant, high-usage stars of all time in James, and a traditional, non-shooting center in Andre Drummond. By dealing Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers have forfeited one of their only remaining floor-spacers. Perhaps the Lakers bring back free agent veteran shooter Wesley Mathews, but even so, a Westbrook-Mathews-James-Davis-Drummond starting lineup is going to entice opposing teams to bust out a zone defense and dare Los Angeles to take uncontested jumpers.
On the other hand, Westbrook brings playmaking and transition offense when James is off the floor. Head Coach Frank Vogel may look to stagger James and Westbrook as much as possible in order to have a dynamic ball-handler on the floor at all times.
Moving Davis to center would also help with spacing issues. However, Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma were both part of successful Davis-at-center lineups last season. Remaining wings like Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker now become indispensable for Los Angeles.
This trade by no means shifts the landscape of the league. Whether the Lakers return to contention depends on the health of their two superstars. The regular season will determine whether James and Westbrook can coexist, and how much of a factor he’ll be in the postseason.