Every so often, a professional sports team will make a move that catches everybody by surprise and dramatically changes everything the team does on the court from whom they start, how they play, and what’s their ceiling.
That’s exactly what happened with the Los Angeles Lakers, who shocked everybody by making a move nobody thought they had the guts or trading chips to pull off: trading for Russell Westbrook to be their third superstar. Panned by the pundits, the Westbrook trade has been as polarizing and controversial as any trade by the Lakers in their storied history, leading the critics to declare LeBron James has won his last NBA championship.
But sometimes, trades have bigger consequences than just swapping players. In Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles gets a superstar player who’s the catalyst for totally changing the Lakers’ overall roster construction and style of play.
The Westbrook trade changes everything for the Los Angeles Lakers. Russ not only allows the Lakers to take the ball from LeBron James and move him to the four but also to move Anthony Davis from the four to the five.
Russell Westbrook’s arrival in Los Angeles cleared the way for the Lakers to finally double down on the small ball lineup with LeBron James at the four and Anthony Davis at the five they rode to last year’s bubble championship. After two years of pandering to Davis’ preference to play the four to avoid the physicality of the five, the Lakers finally seem to be embracing the idea that it’s time for Anthony Davis to play center and the Lakers to go small.
Heading into the offseason, early word came via New York Times reporter Marc Stein that the Lakers were looking for a ‘difference-making playmaker’ so they could move LeBron James to the four and Anthony Davis to the five. Then came news two weeks before free agency that Russ had met with LeBron and AD in Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of the Lakers trading for him to create a Superstar Big Three to match the Brooklyn Nets.
Once free agency started, Westbrook decided he did want to join the Lakers and asked Wizards’ GM Tommy Shepherd to trade him to Los Angeles. Tommy called Rob and the rest is history: Russell Westbrook is a Laker.
Aside from being a huge upgrade over Dennis Schroder at point guard, the other benefit of the Westbrook trade is it finally enables the Lakers to change their style of play and embrace their version of small ball on steroids.
While critics are eager to point to Westbrook’s poor jump shooting from midrange or deep, they ignore the other major changes Russ is going to bring to the Lakers, including his relentless style of play and full throttle pace. Most importantly, Russ taking over as primary playmaker frees up LeBron to move to power forward, the logical position for him as he ages, and Davis to the five, which has always been his best position at both ends of the court.
Starting a front court with LeBron at the four and AD at the five gives the Lakers the most athletic and mobile front court in the league with two superstars who can both score at all three levels and defend all five positions. The small ball lineup with AD at five also allows the Lakers to start two high percentage, high volume 3-point shooters like Kendrick Nunn and Wayne Ellington to give them the spacing they need with Russ playing the one.
The addition of Westbrook is the catalyst the Lakers needed to transform their new roster into the biggest, baddest, and most physical version of a small ball lineups the NBA has seen since the Warriors’ ‘Death Lineup.’
The Los Angeles Lakers have never been afraid to swing for a home run or shoot for the moon. This is the franchise known for pulling off mega trades for superstars like Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, Pau Gasol, and Anthony Davis.
That’s why nobody should be surprised by the Lakers’ blockbuster trade for Westbrook, the enigmatic superstar point guard who was unable to win a championship playing with Kevin Durant, James Harden, or Bradley Beal. Having been disappointed by Dennis Schroder, the Lakers knew they needed a superstar point guard if their plan to take the ball out of LeBron James hands was going to have a chance to succeed. Enter Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook is not just an All-Star point guard. He’s a future HOFer, relentless rim attacker, virtual triple-double machine, one-man fast break, and transcendant playmaker who changes everything for the Lakers.
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