So, here it is. Russel Westbrook had been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers! The Mad Titan, who isn’t so much a titan anymore but apparently is pretty mad, is the best big man of his generation and the most explosive point guard in the entire history of basketball. What an extravagant trio formed in the city of Angels. Some people even argue about where the trio will be more promising – in Brooklyn or the Lakers. That’s a good question, actually. So, who is it – three of the best attacking players in the world, or a coward, a fool and the man who’s seen it all? Or would it be better to say an old man, a feeble and a crazy one? Let me know what you think in the comments section.
All right, jokes aside, I do think that it’s not at all as bad as it looks at first glance. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to read a lot of hate about Russ, LeBron and Pelinka. And I will try to give you an alternative view of the situation today. And this view is almost cheerful.
Who definitely benefited from the trade?
Washington? Lakers? Neither one of them. The person who benefited the most from this deal is Jeanie Buss because she is the one who will get tons of money. Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are just money-making machines. “Money Makers” in their pure form.
And what is more, there’s also Davis alongside them. They can all just alley-oop each other. Isn’t it beautiful? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the president of the Los Angeles Lakers will become an order of magnitude wealthier.
Is Westbrook really that bad?
Ladies and gentlemen, Russell Westbrook is an NBA star. He has a star salary, star statistics, and there are full stadiums of his fans. And also, he gets the team into the playoff without much effort. What happens after that shouldn’t concern us. The main thing is that he gets the team through and into the postseason.
Actually, his game in Washington cannot be overemphasised since Beal was injured for a substantial part of the season. Bryant and Avdija, albeit at different times, but stopped playing altogether; Bertans and Hachimura, from time to time missed the games due to micro-injuries. But Russell Westbrook at that time had 12 or 14 triple-doubles a month and managed to have a series with 11 wins and just three losses. Isn’t that cool? Of course, it is!
So why, then, so many people think he is trash? Because his basketball is ineffective in the playoffs. He is self-centred and infantile. Instead of playing perimeter defence in the critical minutes, he will choose a rebound, and if you ask him not to throw when he doesn’t know how to, he’ll make a cuckoo sign at you and will make around 20 attempts to get the ball into the basket. He’ll get about 6-7 of those, earn his 19 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds and will be really proud of himself for that, saying that here he is – the apotheosis of the will to win!
So what’s good about him? Westbrook is almost guaranteed to get points when he breaks into the area near the net, especially when there aren’t many players. Also, he isn’t bad at passes. Yes, most of the time, it’s drive and kick, which simply put is something like “Ran towards the net and made a throw back outside, or to anyone who is unguarded”. But, first of all, he can make more difficult passes as well. And second of all, drive and kick aren’t bad as well. Definitely better than nothing. Okay, what else? Fast breaks. It is interesting, but we’ll discuss it later. And, of course, Russel Westbrook loves basketball. His game is aggressive, selfless and active. He is fearless, he isn’t lazy and he won’t give up – and that’s what is especially important for the Lakers.
How is it going to work?
Many people argue that Westbrook and LeBron shouldn’t be on the same team. Their styles of the game are too different and thus cannot be put together. This is the view I most agree with, but I’ll try to figure out how it might work. First things first.
Fast breaks, which I mentioned earlier. The Lakers are leading in the number of points scored in the offences of this type, and that’s something. The team is compatible with Westbrook in this respect, which is good. What’s next?
The defence. This is a second season in a row when the Lakers are in the top-10 for playing in the defence. More often, they’re in the top-5, but I’m rounding it up. What does it mean? It means that even when Schroder and Kuzma played as starters and Harell had more minutes, the team’s defence remained at the top level. If I remember correctly, they had 8th or 9th place. And that’s because Frank Vogel is a very worthy expert in terms of planning the defensive schemes. And Westbrook is no worse in the defence than Schroder is. And now we have come to the final, most crucial point.
Motivation. Yes, it is a really abstract thing that cannot be proven, and all arguments about it are just caprioles of fancy. I agree with that, but give me a chance. So, since the start of his career and until the end of the 2021 season, Westbrook was a leader of every team he’s played in, in terms of mentality. Yes, he was around the players who had better skills than him: Durant, Harden,Beal, but the authority of Mr Triple Double was clear and indisputable. He’s a natural leader, whenever and wherever he is. But will he be like that in the Lakers? Well, I’m guessing that LeBron is one of the two people who can get it their own way, even with Russel. Just like a second Curry in the Golden State. So, for the first time in his career, Westbrook will have some authority over him. And that almost certainly doesn’t mean anything. But maybe Russ will end up listening to LeBron and will do what he has to do for victory.
How will Westbrook and LeBron get along? It’s a funny one. It might be surprising, but LeBron will often have to take on the role of the shooter. And I’m serious. Durant and Irving do that with Harden, and you think LeBron won’t be able to? Well, he is just going to have to. Firstly, he has the best percentage out of the “Big Trio”, and secondly, it is what will be more convenient for Russell. No, that does not mean that LeBron will spend all his 35 or 36 minutes at the three-point line, don’t exaggerate. It would be just a part of the overall ball handling.
What else? Russell will have to play off-ball. Yes, I can hear you laughing and shouting while throwing tomatoes at me, but hold on a second.
Westbrook is getting close to the end of his career. He plays thanks to the unique physical skills of his body, and that thing, as you know, may disappear at any moment. That’s why he needs to win here and now! And this victory demands some sacrifices to be made. Oh yeah, it is funny. In this context, making sacrifices equals playing off-ball. But anyway, if Russell does play off-ball and LeBron does a couple of pick n’ rolls as the ball handler, that will create opportunities, including the chance for a 3-pointer shot. Yep, Westbrook is a questionable shooter, but the percentage of his unopposed shots is pretty decent. Not a good one! But pretty decent. The main thing is not to get lazy, and that concerns everyone.
Davis is also pretty flexible, and he is the least questionable part of the big picture. All he needs to do is stay healthy and make his stupid mid-range shots.
Hmmm… What else? Oh yeah! According to all the complex statistics, Westbrook is good during clutch moments! Why didn’t anyone care about it? Because these moments were sporadic even in the playoffs.
Conclusion: Can this whole thing work out? Absolutely! Is it hard to make it work? Absolutely! Will it work? Hell knows! I’m leaning more towards no than yes, but In Russ We Trust!
Is it a stupid trade?
Without any doubt. I am as far from the position of the team’s general manager as Carmelo Anthony is far from the status of the best defensive player in basketball history. And nevertheless, something inside me tells me that it would have been better to make a few trades, try to get two or three high-level role players, which would suit the star duet and the whole team in general. But LeBron is similar to an uber taxi driver – always asks for stars. So here you have the star. Let’s just hope it goes well from here.
Why isn’t this trade as stupid as it seems?
Because they gave away Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell, the first and the third one looked quite well in the regular championship, even in the defence. But in the playoffs they were absolutely useless people. Absolutely. A year ago, KCP was considered as almost an elite player, nearly a three and D one, but this year he was too afraid to shoot. Damn, LeBron was yelling in his face, “I WANT YOU TO SHOOT,” but he didn’t.
All I’m saying is that the losses are not significant. Many say that the Lakers lost depth, but come on, it wasn’t depth. Unless you mean rock bottom when you say that. Then yes.
And no, I’m not trying to say that Kuzma, KCP and Harrell are bad players. No, they’re not. They’re players who play at the NBA level. They aren’t bad in their roles. But they aren’t the people with whom it’s possible to achieve the highest goals.
Maybe right now you’re thinking, “but is Westbrook good enough for these highest goals that you’re talking about?!” or “Didn’t KCP and Kuzma become champions with the Lakers?!” but all this is really controversial, and I am getting tired. We’ll see.
A slight lyrical digression:
I honestly tried to be objective this whole time, but allow me to switch on the Lakers fan mode, just for one moment.
GENERALLY, ALL THIS IS AWESOME! THREE ACTUAL STARS! THERE’S NO WAY THAT LEBRON AND VOGUEL WON’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THESE TALENTS EFFECTIVELY! 100%! AND RUSSELL WILL TRY REALLY HARD! AND IN THE END, THE LAKERS WILL FACE BROOKLYN IN THE FINALS, AND OF COURSE, THEY WILL WIN!
Khm, thank you for your attention. Let’s continue.
Who’s going to play? Will they have to put 11 people on the minimum salary?
Of course not! Who do you think we are? We will quickly give Schroder a sign-and-trade, and get two non-bad role players, and then re-sign Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker for reasonable money. And then there will still be an MLE left, right? Well, not quite.
Selling Schroder, who can go wherever he wants, would be a really challenging task. I mean, in theory, it is possible, and that would be genuinely amazing, but… Don’t forget that the general manager of this club is Pelinka, so the chances of that are extremely low. Yes, of course, maybe there will be a team that will really want him, and this team will have a full payroll so that they will make the offer themselves, but that’s in the realm of fantasy.
The Lakers won’t be able to use MLE because that would mean a hard salary cap, and then the team would have to be transferred into the league of Ice Cube so that the guys could play three against three. Let me remind you that according to the preliminary forecasts, the hard salary cap of the 2021/22 season will be around 143 million. The total salary of the “Big Trio” from the Lakers will amount to 120.8 million. And there’s also Marc Gasol, who earns 2.7 million and 5 million that the Lakers still have to pay Luol Deng. So in total, 128.5 million of the payroll are already taken.
Of course, Alex Caruso and Horton-Tucker don’t get paid that much, but they’ll get at least 15 million between the two of them, and that exceeds the limits of the hard cap. Should they remain in the team? Hell yes! Many say that the Lakers are in doubt, but I say, “what is there to think about?!”. Caruso is an excellent role player who compensates his poor skill set with hard work, which is good enough already. And Horton-Tucker looked really good on the court, and in theory, he should be improving since he is young and has interesting anthropometry. These guys are definitely better than some Carmelo Anthony, who is said to be considered to become a part of the Los Angeles team, right?
And also, there are non-Bird rights for Markiff Morris. Does the team really need him? Hmm… I’d say having him definitely wouldn’t hurt. In the playoffs the year before last, he was actually helpful at certain moments, and in general, wasn’t a bad bench player. The maximum Lakers can offer him is 3.4 million a year, and in fact, why not?
By the way, the Los Angeles club also has the rights to Wesley Matthews, Jared Dudley and Kostas Antetokounmpo, but… I don’t think that’s interesting. I placed high hopes on Wes in the last season, but the man just fell apart. I don’t know how and why, but throughout the whole season, there were only a couple of moments when he was effective, and the rest was just terrible. And in regards to Kostas and Dudley… They’re completely useless, and we’re not here to just sit around. We have a title to win here!
And what about Drummond? There are no rights to him, and he doesn’t agree to the minimum salary, and thank God for that! I wouldn’t be able to bear seeing him in the Los Angeles Lakers for another year. Let him leave. It would’ve been interesting to see how Andre and Russell fight for a rebound, but oh well, oh well.
Oh yeah! There are still possibilities! Yes, we don’t have a bi-annual exception and MLE, but we have taxpayer MLE. It’s around 5.8 million, and that’s already something. I’m assuming it is the last opportunity to acquire someone like three and D, but will it be possible to use this opportunity? Who knows, who knows.
What we can be sure of
This will be a fun and eventful season. It will undoubtedly be interesting to watch the Lakers. The games will be spectacular and with tons of alley-oops. In theory, Marc Gasol can just throw the ball in the direction of the basket, and one of the three stars will catch it and get it through the net. That’s for sure.
Thank you so much for getting to the end of this text. I’ll be waiting for the comments and heated arguments!