The Lakers have only six games left in the regular season. Six games to fight their way into the play-in tournament. Their season didn’t go as planned, and bringing Russell Westbrook into the revamped roster was one of the main reasons the team struggled.
During a TV appearance this week, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explained how the Westbrook trade completely derailed the Lakers.
“The Westbrook is abysmal not just because Westbrook doesn’t fit. It’s because what they traded for him undermined what they did which was three and D. Shooting and defending.”
In order to acquire Westbrook, the Lakers sent Kyle Kuzma, Montrez Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Wizards (plus their 2021 first-round pick). Harrell and Kuzma are inferior defenders by most metrics, but KCP’s contributions on defense and his ability to knock down three in the Lakers 2020 title race cannot be overlooked.
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For Windhorst’s biggest point, the Lakers lost three rotation guys in the deal, and were then crippled for cap space that would allow them to round out Westbrook’s addition with legitimate role players, including valuable three and D players.
This has resulted in a full roster of mostly veterans on the hill with minimum contracts who cannot play defense. Through Thursday, the Lakers rank 23rd in defensive ratings (112.6) this year.
The ESPN reporter later clarified that not all of the Lakers’ problems lay on Westbrook’s shoulders.
“It’s the combination of those two things: Westbrook doesn’t match and they cut their depth. Then you add the AD injury and I guess I’ll say Kendrick Nunn’s injury as well because he’s going to be missing all year. He was their most expensive free agent signing. It was the series of events that led to this point.”
Anthony Davis has only played 37 games with the Lakers this season. He could return from his last injury (sprained midfoot) in Los Angeles’ game against the Pelicans today. Nunn has been struggling with a bone bruise in his knee all season and according to the latest report he will miss the whole season.
Westbrook’s trade isn’t just about Russ’ performance. It’s also about the cascading effect he had on overall team roster building and staff composition.