After spending the first 11 years of his career in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook is headed to his fourth team in four years. The Washington Wizards reportedly agreed to trade him and two future second-round picks to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd pick in last night's draft.
On the surface, the trade looks like a worthwhile talent play for the Lakers. For a team led by an aging LeBron James, spinning three role players and a late first-rounder into a guy who's still capable of producing extended stretches of All-Star-level play is typically the kind of move you'd make without batting an eyelash. But when that player is Westbrook, it's a bit more complicated. How exactly is this going to work?
That seems to be the question for any team that employs Westbrook these days. He's a tricky player to fit onto any roster because he still can't play without the ball, is an increasingly inefficient scorer, and routinely loses focus on defense. Because of how damaging he can be as an off-ball player in the half court, he tends to commandeer more and more on-ball reps by necessity, until his team is ultimately beholden to his play style and usage.
It's harder to imagine that happening in L.A. given the players he's joining, but there's certainly going to be some tension in the way the offense functions. The fit feels simultaneously more and less precarious on this Lakers team. In a sense, it has the potential to be more damaging because the players Westbrook is going to be taking touches away from are LeBron James and Anthony Davis. On the other hand, LeBron's playmaking genius has a way of making stuff work even when it shouldn't. He'll probably find a way to mitigate Westbrook's offensive limitations, either by creating advantages for Westbrook to attack or committing himself to more of an off-ball role.
Perhaps the biggest impetus for the move might be that at 36, LeBron needs to play next to another off-the-dribble creator who can soak up possessions and give him some in-game rest. And if there's one thing Westbrook can do, it's soak up possessions. The quality of those possessions, however, is another matter. Westbrook's creation can provide a jolt, but he's a turnover machine coming off a season in which he posted a true shooting percentage of 51%. For all his gaudy triple-double stats, the Wizards' 109.4 offensive rating with him on the floor would've ranked them 24th in the league.