It remains difficult to really quantify the extent of Russell Westbrook’s successful trade from the Washington Wizards to the Los Angeles Lakers during the last offseason. The NBA seismometer has been smashed to pieces.
Indeed, we were still experiencing the fallout from the Los Angeles Lakers media day as LeBron James and Anthony Davis adorned each other with lyrical lyrics about their new co-star, who just so happens to be a man of foreground in its own right. George Clooney and Brad Pitt welcome Matt Damon to the Oceans franchise.
By the time the news broke by these two seemingly far-sighted Twitter provocateurs, Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski, it instantly changed the form, pace and feel of the coming season.
It’s easy to forget that before injuries hampered their title defense, the Lakers were comfortable favorites in Vegas and everywhere beyond last year. Now they are back, with Anthony Davis putting the emphasis on his health, LeBron James one year older – though you wouldn’t know it – and much wiser, and nine times All-Star, former MVP, playmaker superstar. backing them up to start.
However, despite Westbrook’s earth-shattering resume, filled to the brim with individual accolades and triple-double records but no silverware to speak of, he was far from forcing a move away from the struggling Wizards.
According to general manager Tommy Sheppard, there was no toy in the proverbial stroller, nor any hiss, puff, and swagger from the star and her agent.
Only the sparkling looks of the Lakers would do, otherwise Westbrook was happy to stay in Washington, fighting for a franchise that needed him – even if they offered no immediate path to the ultimate glory every player aspires to. .
In football terms, it was a lot more Jack Grealish than Harry Kane.
In an interview with Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington, Sheppard pointed out that Westbrook had remained professional throughout the offseason and had not requested a trade from a contender despite the Wizards falling in the first round of the playoffs.
“I really have to make sure things are clear on this,” Sheppard said. “He [Westbrook] I just said, ‘If I can get to the Lakers, that would be something I would love to do. Otherwise I will stay here again.
“I said, ‘What about the Clippers? He said, ‘Hell no.’ So Russell was happy to be here and we were very grateful that he was there. “
It remains to be seen whether not wishing to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers amounts to real happiness. Although, in Westbrook’s defense, they are a certified contender with two perennial All-Stars in the form of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. There is reason to think that many other players would have likely jumped at the chance, including former Westbrook partner Bradley Beal.
Now more than ever, the whole league yearns for its own super-team.
Perhaps sadly for Sheppard, the Lakers finally came up with a commercial package that included Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as well as the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft (later traded to the Indiana Pacers for Aaron Holiday and Isaiah Todd).
Of course, that wouldn’t have happened without Sheppard initially exploring a business on behalf of Westbrook. And you can see why the Lakers attract him personally given that Westbrook is a Long Beach native and former UCLA Bruin entering his twilight years without a championship to his name.
If you’re wearing the same jersey as LeBron James – not to mention Anthony Davis – there’s a good chance you’ll make it to the final.
For the vast majority of league hunting rings before they retire, his name alone is enough to leave money on the table and sticks. Of course, that usually helps if the destination is Miami or LA, rather than Cleveland. Just ask Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan and Rajon Rondo, all of whom will be decked out in the famous purple and gold this coming season.
For Sheppard, getting four valuable spinning coins, including a former sixth man of the year at Harrell, represented good value for Westbrook. At 32, and with $ 91 million and two years left on a five-year supermax deal he signed in 2018, the playmaker certainly fits the Lakers’ timeline much more than the Wizards.
That being said, the GM still feels like Westbrook is somewhat undervalued in the league given he once again pulled off a triple-double and transformed Washington in the second half of the season.
“You watch Russell’s season, it’s a travesty that he wasn’t All-NBA either,” Sheppard said.
“Bradley [Beal] Deserved it more than anyone but I thought Russell, he should have had his flowers. The guy averaged a triple-double. He helped this team qualify for the playoffs when we were pretty much in a situation where, look, I thought the season was over halfway through. “
Despite this borderline All-Star Guard pairing, the Wizards were surprisingly overwhelmed by the Philadelphia 76ers during the playoffs. Take for example Westbrook’s stat line in Game 3 of this first round: 26 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 50% on the field, 50% on three and 100% on the strip.
It’s as good a performance as you can expect from any playmaker, especially Westbrook, who has matched his stunning raw numbers with actual shooting efficiency. The Wizards lost again by 29.
If Sheppard needed any confirmation that his reunited team was light years away from the competition in the East, they were there, hewn in stone, with hammer and chisel in the imperious hands of a certain Joel. Embiid.
Speaking of the Sixers, and given their current standoff with Ben Simmons, Westbrook’s trade could be presented in a whole new light. At first it was a flash of blue in the shape of a bird. A fleeting rush of blood to the head, an “oh not the Lakers yet”. Now it seems more substantial, more satisfying for all parties. The rare mega-commerce that could mean something deeper.
The Wizards have both more time and more talent to grow. Basketball fans have a mouth-watering Lakers and Nets super-team axis, whether it’s to love or hate. And Westbrook has come several steps closer to the award he so covets … and perhaps ultimately deserves. It’s no exaggeration to say that the new season will likely be defined, for better or for worse, by this: his career-defining golden opportunity.
Whether it works – it didn’t work on the Rockets alongside James Harden, who shunned his way out of Houston – now depends on him, no matter the age of the cast or the health and availability of Davis and James. .
Over to you, Russ.
(Always. A little tough on the Clippers.)