When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook in a
blockbuster trade during the 2021 NBA Draft, many eyes looked
towards Hollywood as a new Big Three formed. LeBron James and
Anthony Davis were already a dynamic duo with a championship on
their resume together.
Westbrook’s arrival was a massive change and, if it worked,
fireworks would commence in the Western Conference’s arms race for
an NBA Finals berth. For multiple years, Los Angeles has been
trying to find an ideal backcourt piece to take the ball-handling
pressure off LeBron.
However, the fit with Westbrook from the beginning was viewed as
clunky. Westbrook isn’t a floor-spacer. Instead, he's an extremely
high-usage, on-ball scorer who can facilitate an offense and push
If the Lakers wanted to see the Westbrook addition lead to a
beautiful brand of consistently great basketball, everything around
him, James and Davis included, would need to be perfect. Perimeter
shooting was of the utmost importance, which Los Angeles addressed
head-on during free agency, bringing aboard all of the following
plus-40% three-point marksmen: Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne
Ellington and Kent Bazemore.
Here’s the issue, though — only Monk and Anthony have made a
significant dent within the Lakers’ full-time rotation. Bazemore is
being openly shopped before the Feb. 10 trade deadline. Ellington’s
hot-and-cold stretches have been too damaging. Trevor Ariza was
another offseason addition who has yet to make a certified
So, when canvassing the Lakers’ entire list of issues, there’s
no wonder why LeBron’s MVP-level heroics have been unable to pull
them out of mediocrity. It also doesn’t help that Davis has been
sidelined for the past month with a sprained MCL.
Halfway through the season, Los Angeles is at .500 with a
disappointing 21-21 record. LeBron is not at fault. Davis has been
inconsistent when he's been on the court — nowhere close to
superstar-type play — but who knows where the Lakers would be if he
was currently available. The role players haven’t stepped up on a
consistent basis, which was the all-in bet Lakers vice president of
basketball operations Rob Pelinka made when he brought Westbrook to
All roads lead back to Westbrook when it comes to the real issue
at hand for Los Angeles. In the last three games, Westbrook has
been a buzzkill for the Lakers, shooting 8 of 40 overall (20%).
Even expanding out to a season-long sample size though, Westbrook’s
lack of adjustment to being a secondary option has been apparent
whenever I tune into the Lakers.
Westbrook is averaging 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.1 assists
while carrying a below-average 50.4% True Shooting percentage. The
polarizing point guard has always checked in below the Mendoza line
for efficiency, but that’s been buffered by his sky-high usage rate
throughout his career. As the No. 3 option — and more recently at
No. 2 in AD’s absence — Westbrook has been unable to find his
footing even with the lowest usage rate since his second NBA season
(27.6%). Another worrisome advanced metric for Westbrook is his 0.2
VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which checks in as his worst
since entering the league.
More times than not, Westbrook has looked lost when he’s on the
court alongside LeBron. It’s eerily similar to the one-year stint
Westbrook experienced with James Harden in Houston two seasons ago.
That ended in a swift divorce, where Westbrook was sent to the
Washington Wizards before ultimately winding up in Hollywood for
the 2021-22 campaign.
This is Westbrook’s fourth team in four years. We know who the
triple-double king is at this point in his illustrious career. We
also know the answer to what he is within the construct of a
He can be the No. 1 option on a playoff contender, where he can
put up his usual monster stat lines without issue. However, in this
new environment in Los Angeles, Westbrook is wilting. The problem
for Russ and the Lakers is there’s one year remaining on his
contract, a player option for an eye-popping $47.1 million.
There’s already been smoke billowing from Los Angeles that the
Lakers have been open to shopping Westbrook before February’s trade
deadline, including an offer to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben
Simmons. (Unsurprisingly, Philly would not be interested in such a
If the Lakers pulled off their trade for Buddy Hield on draft
night instead of Westbrook, how different would they look? Hield’s
brilliance in perimeter shooting wouldn’t cap their salary
flexibility, which ultimately could've led to Alex Caruso
re-signing in L.A.
Back at that time, it might've been a damning statement to say
the Lakers would be better off with a combination of Hield and
Caruso compared to Westbrook, but that’s just how the cookie has
crumbled for this awkward player-team fit.
The Lakers made their bed with the Westbrook trade, and now,
they have to lie in it for (potentially) another 18 months. It’s a
shame, because the Lakers had the correct formula in mind to make
this work on the court. However, a failure on the part of multiple
role players, Davis' inconsistency and health — plus Westbrook
looking like a deer in the headlights — has put the good news of
LeBron’s excellence at age 37 on the national media backburner.