August 2, 2021

Here's What the Russell Westbrook Trade Means for Los Angeles Lakers

Following weeks of speculation, the Los Angeles Lakers pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade to acquire star point guard Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards.  

The Lakers landed the former league MVP and two second-rounders by agreeing to move Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd overall pick (Isaiah Jackson). 

It’s a move that dramatically shifts the Lakers offseason plans by adding a third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Beyond that, it immediately places high expectations as one of the favorites to secure the 2022 NBA title.

With all that in mind, here’s what the trade means for the Lakers:

Lakers Have Lots of Work Left to Fill Roster

Although the Lakers nearly matched Westbrook’s incoming $44.2 million salary for the 2021-22 season, it moves them to over $120 million committed to its three stars. Meanwhile, the team has just four players under contract with Marc Gasol being the fourth piece. 

The front office has significantly limited financial space to fill out the rest of the roster. The team’s decision to not go the sign-and-trade route would have hard-capped them, meaning there is no wiggle room to move above the projected $143 million league payroll salary.

Los Angeles will likely look to fill the roster out with veteran’s minimum contracts with players such as Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala. The front office may also sign young talent to add more depth while trying to keep Alex Caruso and possibly Talen Horton-Tucker.

Russell Westbrook Must Embrace The Third-Star Role

Westbrook’s addition will include a massive change for the 32-year-old as the third option behind James and Davis. 

Throughout his career, he’s either been the first or second scoring option in each of his previous NBA stops. Westbrook will have a decreased offensive role, but he holds an opportunity to significantly impact the game behind his playmaking as a passer and scorer. 

It will be a massive adjustment playing alongside James as the two stars have worked primarily with the ball in their hands. The new teammates will have plenty of time before the campaign to build chemistry. It’s an experiment that should have numerous highlight-reel moments along the way.

There will also be bumps along the way, but the two will work to find what makes them most effective alongside each other. Davis will also factor greatly into the equation as he can excel in pick-and-roll situations, and be the beneficiary of more scoring opportunities near the rim. 

Championship-Or-Bust Expectations

Regardless of what the Lakers do moving forward with the rest of the roster, the team has set expectations toward hanging an 18th championship banner. 

Los Angeles has constructed its own Big 3 that has elevated them to the favorites in the Western Conference and the second-best odds to win the NBA title behind the Brooklyn Nets. 

The Lakers will vie against the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Denver Nuggets. Los Angeles’ star power will lead the way, but it’s the rest of the roster that will make the difference, especially in the playoffs. 

The front office must work to add depth, shooting, and experience to the roster. If the organization can manage to do that this offseason, adding another NBA title to the rafters in Staples Center will be a realistic outcome.

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