What the Russell Westbrook trade means for the LA Lakers next season

February 18, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Team LeBron forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (23) forward Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (23 and guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder (0) react during the second half of the 2018 NBA All Star Game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Russell Westbrook in a trade with the Washington Wizards. The deal sends the multi-time all-star and former league MVP to his hometown. Meanwhile, Washington receives the former sixth man of the year, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Along with the trio came the rights to the 22nd overall pick from this year’s NBA draft (Isaiah Jackson).

Many couldn’t have seen this trade coming. While the rumors swirled of its potential, people felt that the Lakers would ultimately delve into better, more suitable options. Instead, we now have yet another “Big Three” in the NBA.

This article discusses the Russell Westbrook trade and what it means for the Lakers going into next season. Beyond the makings of a new star trio, several implications come with this deal. Obviously, we can’t know how things will work out, but we can make a few declarations with what we know right now.

Positional changes & fit issues

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 27: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on November 27, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In their time with the Lakers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have regularly held down the small and power forward positions. However, with Russell Westbrook entering the fray, that likely has to change. The most predominant concern regarding Westbrook’s addition is about spacing the floor.

Neither of the three superstars between himself, James, nor Davis rank among the league’s top three-point shooters. In fact, Westbrook ranks among the worst. And to get him, the Lakers let go of their best long-range shooter in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This created an even more dire need to address an already glaring issue. Fortunately, cheap options have presented themselves during free agency thus far. However, the team will have to conduct itself to allow these pieces to fit properly. This brings us to the positional changes.

Now Anthony Davis has reportedly committed to playing more minutes at center, which should help. However, I believe LeBron James should change positions as well. People in the past have called for Lebron to play the point guard position. I, on the other hand, believe he should shift to the power forward spot. The better shooters on the open market usually come in as small forwards or shooting guards. I believe that is their best play to properly optimize this newfound trio and maintain a fit that can persist in the postseason.

Keeping up the pace

May 31, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) dribbles during game four in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more unflattering traits of LeBron James-led teams in the past decade has been their tendency to falter when he leaves the floor. So far, the Lakers have fallen into that same trope. Even with Anthony Davis, the quality of play takes a steep dropoff with James out. This largely has to do with his teams not having other players who can control the offense.

Russell Westbrook gives this Lakers team that edge. Though he cannot control an offense at the same level as LeBron, the goal is to keep pace and afford James extended breaks during games. Having Westbrook run the second unit or something along those lines would potentially give LeBron James a rare edge that he has not had in a while.

You could say many things about Russell Westbrook, but what he can add to this Lakers roster cannot be ignored. He stands as an inefficient scorer with a tendency to turn over the ball. However, he also remains active at all times and keeps the ball moving. It is part of the reason why he has averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons. Adding that to this team could go a long way in securing another NBA title in Los Angeles.

Taking a step back?

May 25, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) against the Phoenix Suns during game two of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The trade for Russell Westbrook shocked a lot of us. Immediately, people pointed out the problems that may lie ahead. The move comes off as somewhat desperate and uncharacteristic for a team led by LeBron James. To that point, this could manifest into a new approach for LeBron entirely.

As great as he’s played throughout his career, a decline is inevitable. Every great athlete eventually comes back down to earth. Considering that Westbrook’s style of play somewhat mirrors his, one ought to wonder if this move signifies LeBron James taking a step back in the near future. James will turn 37 years old in December. While his elite performance has lasted throughout his thirties, he has shown signs of slowing down. He has sustained significant injuries in two of the last three seasons.

A full offseason should help him at the start of the 2021-22 season. However, some issues regarding his long-term health may linger yet. That said, the trade for Westbrook could serve as an outlet for LeBron to transition into a smaller role slowly.

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