The Los Angeles Lakers have finally pulled off a trade that should lift this team back into playoff contention.
As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are finally unloading the much-maligned Russell Westbrook and a protected top-four pick in the 2027 NBA Draft to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the Minnesota Timberwolves D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt. Sparsely-used Lakers big men, Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson will also be traded to the Jazz, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker will go to the Timberwolves.
This is a win in a number of ways for the Lakers. General manager Rob Pelinka — who has been criticized by many, including myself for his unwillingness to attach an extra first-round draft pick in any possible trades — was not only able to pull off a deal without including a second first-round pick, he traded Westbrook and he acquired a former All-Star guard in Russell — who will be making his return to the Lakers — and key role players in Beasley and Vanderbilt.
The trade comes hours after LeBron James broke the all-time points record in NBA history, a feat that occurred while the Lakers (25-30) fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder (26-28), 133-130. The loss was notable because Los Angeles is in direct competition with Oklahoma City for one of the play-in spots in the Western Conference.
With the loss, the Lakers dropped two games behind the Jazz for the final spot in the play-in tournament and four games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
It also comes days after the Lakers failed in their pursuit for a trade involving Kyrie Irving. James delivered telling comments following the franchise’s failure in trading for his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate.
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Since the Westbrook trade prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, the Lakers have fallen on hard times. Not only did they miss the playoffs last season with a 34-48 record, they were on pace to do the same thing this season with a 37-45 record.
Los Angeles now has an upgraded starting backcourt with Russell — who is averaging 17.7 points per game this season — and Patrick Beverley or Beasley as the starting shooting guard. When combining recent trade acquisition Rui Hachimura, Anthony and James, there’s no reason why the Lakers shouldn’t be one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference.
Most importantly, the Lakers can finally move on from arguably their worst move in franchise history when they acquired Westbrook.
Los Angeles won an NBA title a little more than two years ago with the James/Davis pairing, but it feels like a decade ago. The Lakers had a perfect construct of role players surrounding the James and Davis duo, centered on rotational pieces who could play defense while nailing the occasional three-pointer.
That model construction that led them to a championship — and likely would have led them to a deep playoff run had James and Davis not suffered injuries during the 2020-21 season — went away once key pieces such as Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were traded to the Washington Wizards for Westbrook.
After multiple trade rumors surrounding the Lakers for the past year involving Westbrook’s name, this trade feels like a big win for Los Angeles.
Russell — the Lakers’ former No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft — does have his flaws considering he’s not a good defender. In fact, the Timberwolves were actually outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and they outscored the opposition by 4.1 points per 100 possessions when he was not on the floor.
However, he won’t be leaned on heavily on the defensive end and he’ll only expected to be the ball-handler when James is not on the floor. Considering he’s in a contract year and he’s shown his ceiling before — 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game during his All-Star campaign back in 2018-19 — he shouldn’t have much of a problem fitting in with James and Davis.
Meanwhile, Beasley is an offensive spark plug with playoff experience and Vanderbilt is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. With the Lakers ranking 28th in points allowed per game and 21st in defensive rating, Vanderbilt will give Los Angeles an interior defensive presence they’ve been missing this season.
For the past year-and-a-half, a dark gloom has hovered over the Lakers.
For the first time since the 2020-21 season, that no longer appears to be the case.