Lakers Swap Russells, Trading Westbrook to Timberwolves for D’Angelo

The trade is a tacit admission of fault by the Lakers that Westbrook was never a fit with LeBron and Anthony Davis

The NBA trade deadline rapidly approaches, and the Lakers are in the thick of it. Late Wednesday night, they traded their $40 million per-year guard Russell Westbrook to the Minnesota Timberwolves for D’Angelo Russell.

Westbrook, a poor shooter and ball-dominant guard, represented the culmination of the Lakers dismantling their title-winning 2020 roster, with Los Angeles sending away shooters Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope along with bench big Montrezl Harrell to the Washington Wizards for the all-star guard.

The move perplexed many in the NBA community, and in the player community as well. Just a month ago, Caldwell-Pope, now with the Denver Nuggets, said on The Lowe Post podcast that he was surprised at the speed with which the Lakers took apart that roster. The Westbrook trade, and indeed the Lakers’ recent trade with the Wizards for Rui Hachimura—a player who was noticeably behind former Laker Kuzma on the Wizards’ wing/forward depth chart—seems a tacit admission that the post-championship roster management for the purple and yellow has been subpar.

For Russell, the trade represents a homecoming of sorts. The mercurial guard spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets for a package that included a first-round pick that became Kyle Kuzma. Since leaving Los Angeles, Russell has had an up and down career, plagued by tensions both on and off the court. His offensive habits have drawn calls of “good stats bad team,” which suggest that Russell’s game is not fit for a winning club. Meanwhile, he has beefed with coaches and fan bases alike, most recently lashing out at Minnesota’s “quiet-ass” fans amid a difficult season in Minneapolis.

The hope for the Lakers will be that Russell’s superior three-point shooting will improve spacing for LeBron over the spacing he had with Westbrook. Russell, a career 36 percent three-point shooter, has been shooting 39 percent from deep this season, a marked improvement over Westbrook’s 30 percent.

Despite the trade, the Lakers have a tall hill to climb to make the playoffs. Currently, the standings in the West are tight, with just 4.5 games separating the Lakers in 13th and the Mavericks in fourth. Nonetheless, the Lakers have improved along the fringes of their rotation, while competitors have made significant upgrades—particularly in Dallas and Phoenix, which poached stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, respectively, from the Brooklyn Nets this week.

Already at a disadvantage in the standings, the Lakers have their work cut out, and Russell will need to hit the ground running for the team to inch up to the playoffs. It is unlikely that Russell will be registered with the Lakers in time for their matchup Thursday night with the Bucks. Their next game is Saturday night at Golden State.

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