Russell Westbrook takes Lakers to extreme
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
Russell Westbrook hasn’t won more than two games in a playoff series in half a decade.
Yet, the Lakers’ chose Westbrook as their main addition in a bid to win another championship with Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
Westbrook is hardly solely responsible for his lack of postseason success. His team was the higher seed only once in that span – and won. The Rockets beat the Thunder in 2020 first round, though Westbrook played just three games due to injury (two wins).
But in the years since splitting from Kevin Durant, Westbrook has embraced an extreme style that doesn’t neatly lend itself to fitting with other stars and advancing deep in the playoffs. He dominates the ball, cramps spacing and defends negligently.
Maybe Westbrook will conform more in Los Angeles.
So far, his acquisition has sent the Lakers toward their own extremes.
Extreme depth. Extreme prestige. Extreme age. Extreme top-heaviness. Extreme upside.
Beyond important concerns about how LeBron, Davis and Westbrook would fit together, the Westbrook deal also sapped Los Angeles of significant depth.
The Lakers have done a very good job restocking their roster. Not quite as good as they could have done. That would’ve meant re-signing Alex Caruso, who was reportedly willing to return for a similar salary as he got from the Bulls, and filling an open roster spot – luxury-tax hit and all. But Los Angeles still did well to sign:
- Kendrick Nunn (1+1, $10.25 million)
- Trevor Ariza (one year, minimum)
- Kent Bazemore (one year, minimum)
- Wayne Ellington (one year, minimum)
- Malik Monk (one year, minimum)
- Dwight Howard (one year, minimum)
- Carmelo Anthony (one year, minimum)
- Rajon Rondo (one year, minimum)
- DeAndre Jordan (one year, minimum)
- Austin Reaves (two years, minimum with a team option)
For most of those players, the feat was luring them. The exception: Reaves, who looks like a find as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma.
That deep group provides significant optionality. Lakers coach Frank Vogel is tasked with finding the optimal lineup combinations among the numerous possibilities.
Current Lakers have a combined prior-season 48 All-NBA selections – 10 more than any other team ever (surpassing the 2004 Lakers):
A catch: These Lakers have earned so many honors only because they’ve been around so long. Los Angles could challenge the 1997-98 Rockets (average age: 32.0*) for oldest team in NBA history.
*Weighted by playing time, holding a player’s age constant as of Feb. 1 of that season.
It’ll depend how Vogel sets his rotation. Increasing the Lakers’ odds of breaking the record, their youngest rotation player by multiple years – 20-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker – will begin the season injured.
Horton-Tucker, who just re-signed for $30.78 million on 2+1, is Los Angeles’ fourth-highest-paid player. Westbrook, LeBron and Davis will each earn more than $35 million this season alone. This roster is extremely top-heavy with that big three.
Several teams have followed that model to a championship. LeBron, Davis and Westbrook are all extremely talented. The trio could definitely win a title.
But Westbrook invites more volatility, which is undesirable with LeBron and Davis already on board. The Lakers did enough to fill the rest of their roster with contributors to feel alright about this plan, though.
Offseason grade: C