Russell Westbrook is coming home. It has been a busy free agency period for the Los Angeles Lakers. The 2020 NBA Champions have been hard at work of trying to surround their star players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with talent in hopes to win another Finals. Over the past couple of days, they have signed well-established veterans including: Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, and Kent Bazemore. However, their biggest transaction actually occurred on draft night. When the Lakers were able to acquire Westbrook, a former MVP winner and nine-time All-Star, from the Washington Wizards.
The Lakers were in search of a new point guard. Mainly due to the fact that they were unwilling to pay Dennis Schroder his contract demands. There were rumors and speculation as to which point guard they were going to obtain. Some reports said that Damian Lillard was an option, or maybe even James’ close friend, Chris Paul. Despite his old age, Paul was able to lead two young franchises (Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns) to deep playoff runs in back-to-back years. But, on the night of the NBA Draft, there were reports stating that the Wizards and Lakers were close on completing a deal that involved Westbrook heading back home to Los Angeles. Although it didn’t become official until August 6th, the trade was still pretty much a done deal.
The Lakers, all of sudden, formed a new big three that consisted of two former MVP winners (James and Westbrook). In return for Westbrook, the Lakers traded away Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and their 2021 first-round pick (22nd overall). The trade obviously goes in favor of the Lakers. Because adding somebody of Westbrook’s caliber is huge for a championship-contending organization. Not to mention, it seemed as though Kuzma and Harrell had trouble fitting in amongst the team from a basketball standpoint. That was proven evident in this year’s first-round playoff series against the Suns. Also, Caldwell-Pope can sometimes be a streaky player, but he is still a nice three-point asset to have on any team. Due to salary cap reasons, the Lakers won’t miss their first-round pick all that much, which is why they were trying to trade down before the trade.
How Will Russell Westbrook Fit In?
A trio of James, Davis, and Westbrook will definitely be a sight to behold. This will especially be true with all of the intriguing pieces surrounding them. However, it’s not enough to obtain Westbrook for little, they actually need to do something with him. Ever since Kevin Durant parted ways with him, Westbrook has been putting up fantastic numbers the last few years. Last season, he actually passed Oscar Robertson for most triple-doubles in NBA history. He has averaged a triple-double four times in the last five seasons. In addition to that he has also led the league in assists three times in the last four years; his new teammate, James, led it last year. Not too long ago, Westbrook also led the league in points per game twice (2015 and 2017). So, from a statistical and accolade standpoint, the numbers speak for themselves.
However, numbers can sometimes be misleading. Despite all of his achievements, Westbrook can sometimes be inefficient and actually hurts his team at times especially from three-point range and the free-throw line. On many occasions, throughout his career, it seemed as though Westbrook would do “too much” to try and muster his team to victory. Some of which included shooting the ball too much, taking ill-advised shots, and not getting his teammates involved. That is one of the reasons as to why his respective teams have been eliminated in the first round four times in the last five years. So, all of those triple-doubles usually result in nothing. Similar to what his former teammate, James Harden, was able to do for the Brooklyn Nets this past season, if Westbrook buys into the Lakers system then both parties will see great success.
The Integration Process
Westbrook doesn’t need to play hero ball all of the time, especially since he, once again, has two All-Stars to help him out. James will do most of the facilitating, while Davis will handle the rebounding aspect. However, this type of teamwork will have to go both ways. It’s imperative that James finds a way to integrate Westbrook into the offensive scheme. Because, unlike some of his past teammates, James cannot just drive into the paint, draw a double team, and let Westbrook shoot a bunch of corner threes. That’s a recipe for disaster and inefficiency production. However, it seems as though James has already been in contact with both Davis and Westbrook in terms of “sacrificing” for the betterment of the team.
So, if James can make Westbrook a more efficient player while getting the most production out of him, then I would fully expect the Lakers to take back their championship title this season. However, Westbrook is also going to have to buy into the system and trust his teammates. Because, while playing with Harden, he didn’t average a triple-double during the 2019-20 season. It should be no surprise that Harden also had a productive year, and the Houston Rockets made it past the first round. Albeit, they eventually lost the Lakers in the next round, but it goes to show that less can sometimes be good. Especially if there’s an already established system for success.