What if the Lakers never traded for Russell Westbrook?
The aforementioned 2021 Russell Westbrook trade has cemented itself in the memory of the Los Angeles faithful for all the wrong reasons. The Lakers won the 2020 Finals by building talented, dependable depth around James and Davis. After injuries led to a disappointing 2021 playoff loss, the Lakers surrendered nearly all of their best role players in a trade with the Washington Wizards that brought Russell Westbrook to the Lakers.
In the years leading up to Westbrook’s entrance to the Lakers, he had begun swapping teams fairly often, struggling to find the right fit for his run-and-gun athletic playstyle. Though Westbrook built a reputation as a walking triple-double, his skillset needed a roster filled with outside shooters surrounding him to make up for his lack of 3-point shooting.
While Anthony Davis is one of the league’s better shooting big men, the rest of the Lakers squad could not maintain a consistent threat on the perimeter. Additionally, pairing a ball-dominant guard such as Westbrook next to LeBron James led to a fraught relationship between the Lakers and Westbrook.
Westbrook’s defensive weaknesses also manifested countless dramas between himself and the Lakers coaching staff. The accumulation of Westbrook’s poor fit in Los Angeles over two seasons drastically hurt Westbrook’s value across the NBA. Although Westbrook has created a Hall of Fame portfolio, his Lakers tenure caused his downfall from a perennial All-Star on maximum contracts to re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-year, $8 million contract.
With the multitude of wing shooters on the Clippers, Westbrook has rebuilt his reputation, but the Lakers likely wish they had never agreed to the massive roster overhaul that brought him to LA initially. When they finally traded Westbrook, the Lakers essentially reversed the first trade by swapping Westbrook for a handful of talented role players who improved their defense and long-range capabilities.
Overall, the Lakers have always found a path to the highest ranks of NBA competition, though their recent seasons have been fraught with questionable choices. This past summer suggests the Lakers have learned from their mistakes, but the “what if” questions still loom over the modern era of Los Angeles basketball.