The Los Angeles Lakers‘ big-time acquisition of Russell Westbrook just hasn’t panned out so far.
The Lakers are currently 12-11 and in eighth place in the Western Conference. The team is currently mired in a rut of mediocrity with no real concrete identity in place. Making matters worse, the Lakers’ previous strength — their defense — is now one of their weaknesses, as they currently rank 27th in points allowed per game and 15th in defensive rating.
Needless to say, Westbrook has been the focus of the Lakers’ struggles — and rightfully so. His limitations on defense combined with his inefficient shooting and turnover-prone style of play have made Los Angeles a very vulnerable team.
While grading the top moves of the NBA offseason, Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin didn’t hold back in his assessment of the Westbrook trade, giving it a “D” grade.
“The Lakers hoped they’d be able to form a new Big Three by putting Westbrook next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. So far, it just hasn’t worked.
Westbrook has been better lately, but he’s struggled to fit into the Lakers offense and share primary ball-handling duties with James. In a lot of ways, he’s been the same Russell Westbrook he’s been since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, putting up big numbers and leading his team to wins but also taking some terrible shots and turning the ball over a ton.
The past few years with the Thunder, Rockets and Wizards, he’s been able to function like that because those teams didn’t have real title expectations. This Lakers team is a different story, and their disappointing start to the year is causing concern around the NBA world.”
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Westbrook Move Hasn’t Moved the Needle
Westbrook’s style of play clearly hasn’t exactly affected the Lakers in a positive way. Despite the frenetic pace that they’re playing at — Los Angeles ranks No. 2 in the league in pace — the Lakers rank 23rd in the league in offensive rating, scoring just 106.6 points per 100 possessions.
As Highkin notes, the Lakers also jettisoned two of their best perimeter defenders in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma in the Westbrook trade. Absorbing his $44 million salary also negated the team’s ability to sign free agents.
“Aside from Westbrook’s up-and-down individual play, the trade severely limited the moves the Lakers can make going forward,” said Highkin.
“L.A. gave up three valuable role players in Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell (all three of whom are thriving in Washington). It cashed in all its chips for Westbrook, who is not only a huge defensive downgrade but forced them to fill out the rest of the roster with aging veterans on minimum contracts,” Highkin concludes.
Westbrook’s Salary Negates Lakers’ Flexibility
Because of Westbrook’s massive salary — he earns more than both LeBron James and Anthony Davis — the Lakers will be hard-pressed to move Westbrook. The 33-year-old point guard holds a player option worth $47 million for the 2022-23 season — which would make Westbrook the fourth-highest paid player in the league next year.
In other words, the Lakers will have to make the Westbrook project work over the next two years. However, due to the lack of fit on the court and the salary cap ramifications as a result of Westbrook’s salary, Los Angeles may be hard-pressed to emerge as a true contender.