The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook in the league’s biggest blockbuster deal this summer. The star point guard will play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the franchise looks to return to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
But Westbrook wasn’t LA’s first option. The team tried to acquire one of the NBA’s biggest names and also kicked the tires on another All-NBA star to pair with James. Only then did it acquire Russ from the Washington Wizards.
The former Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets guard is a solid get for LA. But even as the organization’s third choice, Westbrook was the wrong guard to acquire.
Russell Westbrook is now the Lakers’ third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis
In the end, LA ended up with Westbrook. But the Lakers’ summer story began with Damian Lillard.
According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, the franchise entered the offseason with hopes of landing Lillard. Dame has repeatedly expressed his desire to remain with Portland, and Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has publicly refused to deal his team’s superstar.
Plan B for the Lakers was Chris Paul, but the Phoenix Suns made the NBA Finals and weren’t letting Paul go anywhere. DeMar DeRozan also came up, according to Yahoo Sports, but the LA native headed to the midwest to sign with the Chicago Bulls.
Westbrook was apparently the next option, and the organization scrambled to get a deal done to acquire the 2016-17 MVP. LA sent Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in the 2021 draft to acquire The Brodie.
But the Lakers should have gone in another direction, one that was already on the table before they moved for the two-time scoring champ.
A trade for Sacramento’s Buddy Hield would have been the better choice
Before the trade for Westbrook, rumors swirled about a possible deal for Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield. While the deal with Washington involved all three players plus a pick, the supposed swap for Hield involved only Kuzma and Harrell. Caldwell-Pope would have stayed in LA.
As it stands, the Lakers have a projected starting five of Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, James, and Davis. Also in the rotation are aging veterans such as Kent Bazemore, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Talen Horton-Tucker will also be involved in some capacity.
The trade with Sacramento would have left the Lakers with both Hield and Caldwell-Pope — two excellent outside shooters who would fit more snugly around James and Davis. Hield shot 39.1% from 3-point range last year on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game. The Oklahoma product is already 30th all-time in 3-point shooting percentage.
Caldwell-Pope shot 41.0% and 38.5% the last two seasons, respectively, as a starter alongside James. Both he and Hield are low-usage floor spacers.
On the other hand, Westbrook had the 19th-highest usage rate in the NBA last season. James was 11th, and Davis was 24th. That means each member of LA’s new Big Three had the ball. A lot.
LeBron and AD will need to defer to Westbrook. In the regular season that’s fine. But the postseason will bring on a new heap of challenges.
James and the Lakers are convinced Westbrook is the answer
LA tried to trade for Lillard but was turned back. Paul stayed in Phoenix. DeRozan chose Chicago. Then along came Westbrook.
Everyone involved with the Lakers organization is saying the right things. And, admittedly, Westbrook is a far superior all-around player than Hield. But the idea of he and Caldwell-Pope spacing the floor for James and Davis was the better choice fit-wise. That trade would have been the better move. But only time will tell.
Fourth-quarter, late-game, postseason time, specifically.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.