NBA Trade Deadline: Russell Westbrook Should Serve as a Warning to Teams Searching for the Missing Piece of Their Championship Puzzle

As the trade deadline inches closer, the activity level around the league will rise. The Los Angeles Lakers are attempting to find a spark as acquiring Russell Westbrook hasn’t panned out as hoped. Beyond that, the Lakers serve as a cautionary waring for any team looking to vie for an NBA title.

Russell Westbrook’s ongoing struggles with the Lakers

After falling to a disappointing first-round playoff exit, the Lakers decided to headline their offseason by acquiring Westbrook.

The blockbuster deal brought aboard the nine-time All-Star to fill the desired void of a playmaking point guard. Injuries have played a significant part in preventing the Lakers from developing an identity with their big three. Instead, Westbrook has become the primary recipient of criticism due to his inconsistent play, especially in late-game situations.

The outside noise grows louder with LeBron James still performing like an ageless wonder. James ranks second in the league averaging 29.1 points while riding a streak of 18 straight games with at least 25 points. As the Lakers continue to stumble, playing well below championship expectations, it makes Westbrook’s acquisition a cautionary reminder.

NBA trade deadline: Russell Westbrook should serve as a warning to teams searching for the missing piece of their championship puzzle

Although Anthony Davis’ return brings much optimism, the front office is stuck dealing with buyer’s remorse.

Westbrook simply hasn’t been a feasible fit, making him an unmovable piece. His massive remaining contract is giving teams outside the Houston Rockets pause at acquiring him. He’s making $44.2 million this season and holds a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 campaign.

All that has positioned the Lakers in the spot of either being desperate enough to take on John Wall’s huge contract or staying put with Westbrook through at least the rest of the season. Los Angeles knowingly limited their roster structure afterer taking on the former league MVP’s salary.

If general manager Rob Pelinka cannot move him by the offseason, the Lakers will have to build the roster primarily with veteran’s minimum contracts. It’s a recipe that has put them in the spot of not being able to make moves before next month’s trade deadline. The team possesses no contracts outside of Talen Horton-Tucker ($9 million) and Kendrick Nunn ($5 million) to make a significant move financially work.

Those factors alone should make any team wary of simply trying to acquire another star player just for the simple fact of adding premium talent. The Lakers are dealing with the repercussions of making a move for the sake of having a third star to pair alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Westbrook is a tremendous talent, but his playing style, coupled with learning how to be the third scoring option, has predictably led to ongoing struggles. Much of the season remains, but the Lakers are stuck with no choice but to stick it through.

The rest of the NBA must learn from the Lakers’ brash decision

The Lakers could figure out a formula to success with their big three healthy, but it sends a clear message.

Talent can only take a team so far if the puzzle pieces don’t fit cohesively together. A player like Ben Simmons is attainable, but it depends on finding the appropriate fit. Beyond taking on the massive contract, the allotted assets involving draft picks and players add to the risk.

It’s not to say that swinging for the fences is a bad idea, but rather that a team should truly assess the potential outcome.

Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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