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Opinion

Westbrook on the Lakers is the exact disaster we anticipated

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Expert
24th October, 2021
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There’s nothing quite like the silliness of overreacting just two games into an 82-game schedule. To make any sweeping statements based on a sample size of 2.4 per cent of the season is just sheer madness.

Given that, you can go ahead and call me silly, mad, and anything else you like, because I’m going for it: the Lakers trade for Russell Westbrook is an absolute disaster.

Through two games, Westbrook is averaging just 11.5 points on a paltry 36 per cent shooting – including 0-7 from three – and the Lakers have dropped both contests. They’ve also looked dreadful in doing so. The offense has often been a shambles, with zero spacing, while the defence has been atrocious, severely lacking in rotations and communication.

However, the real reason the Lakers situation is a disaster is because so many people predicted it would be the very moment the Westbrook transaction was reported, and for many weeks after. Every piece of off-season and pre-season media coverage of the Lakers was centred on the exact same narrative: how would Westbrook fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis?

Countless articles, podcasts, and shows questioned the Lakers spacing on offense by adding a player labelled the “worst shooter in NBA history”; not exactly the optimal casting to pair with LeBron and AD.

If the shooting concerns weren’t a big enough red flag, Westbook is also only effective when he has the ball in his hands, and borderline useless without it. However, there’s only one ball to go around, and that ball is probably best placed in the hands of arguably the greatest player of all time, LeBron James.

So on multiple levels, the addition of Westbrook seemed a very odd fit. Though we can now go ahead and replace “seemed” with “is”.

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook’s teams have struggled for success. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Which begs the question, if almost everyone else identified that Westbrook would be a bad fit on the Lakers, why didn’t the Lakers? Rob Pelinka, the Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager of the Lakers, should rightfully cop plenty of criticism for the deal, because it was so painfully obvious that it was a bad one.

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And if the whispers are true that LeBron had a lot of influence in the acquisition of Westbrook, then it calls into question his standing as one of the smartest players in NBA history, because the move was just plain dumb.

Sadly, trading for Westbrook is the downside of ‘Lakers exceptionalism’; a term used somewhat derisively to explain the Lakers mentality that they’ll always be great because, well, they’re the Lakers. The team chases star players, and gets star players. You can’t fault that strategy, because it’s served the franchise well in its history and helped deliver 17 championships.

Yet the problem this time is that while Westbrook may be a star, that doesn’t make him a great fit. In fact, he’s the worst fit imaginable.

Personally, I think the biggest mistake of the Westbrook trade isn’t even the addition of the polarising point guard, it’s the ‘opportunity cost’ of what the Lakers subsequently missed out on.

The other trade on the table for Los Angeles – that was rumoured to be a done deal – was for Sacramento’s Buddy Hield. The Kings marksman would have been an extremely savvy acquisition, at least on offense.

Hield is one of the best shooters in the NBA, nailing 41 per cent of his threes in his career, and at high volume, taking seven per game. Defenders have to respect Hield’s range, which opens up the floor for his teammates. Plug him into the Lakers line-up and opponents would have to pick their poison: try to defend LeBron and AD with single coverage, or send a double and leave Hield open for a three. It’s basketball’s version of “a rock and hard place”.

There’s no hyperbole or ‘Harry Hindsight’ here, Hield would have been the perfect addition.

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard had an altercation with AD. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Furthermore, the rumoured trade with Sacramento didn’t include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, though he was included in the Westbrook trade. So if the Lakers had traded for Hield, they would have kept ‘KCP’, their best perimeter defender, and a player who also shot 41 per cent on threes last season.

Hield and Caldwell-Pope may not be flashy superstars and big names, but they’re a much better fit than Westbrook, and would have helped surround LeBron and AD with good, young shooters. It would have been much smarter roster construction, but alas, it’s now just a dream for Lakers fans, rather than the nightmare reality they have.

To be fair, it is still very early in the season, and things will get better. It was always going to take some time for the Lakers to adjust and build chemistry, as there’s nine new players on the roster, and that always presents challenges and teething problems.

LeBron also remains a high IQ player who eventually works things out, and (hopefully!) the team will eventually shift Davis to centre, which will help the spacing. Plus, four key rotation players – Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington and Trevor Ariza – have yet to suit up, and will make a difference.

Yet none of that changes the fact that the Westbrook trade was a mistake to begin with.

Calling it a disaster this early in the season might be an overreaction, but given its also playing out the exact way many of us thought it would, it’s also the only reaction to have.

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