Since it was one of the first major moves of the 2021 NBA offseason, it’s easy to forget now that the trade that sent Russell Westbrook from the Wizards to the Lakers didn’t initially look like it would happen.
The Kings and Lakers were pretty far down the road on a trade that would’ve sent Buddy Hield to Los Angeles. Multiple players who were eventually included in the Westbrook deal – likely Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell – would’ve headed to Sacramento if the Hield trade had been finalized, so the Lakers couldn’t have done both deals. When the opportunity to acquire Westbrook arose, the Lakers pivoted to negotiating a deal with the Wizards rather than finalizing one with the Kings.
Kuzma, rumored to be part of the return for Hield, ended up getting sent to Washington in the Westbrook trade. However, he acknowledged during an appearance on No Chill With Gilbert Arenas (video link via Bleacher Report) that he believed at one point in July that he was about to become a King.
“I was kind of shocked because I thought I was going to Sac,” Kuzma said of being dealt to the Wizards. “The Sacramento deal with Buddy Hield, that s–t was done. So I’m thinking in my head, ‘Yeah, okay, well, I’m in Sac, 45-minute flight, that’s not bad.’ … But then out of nowhere, it goes, ‘You’re going to Washington.'”
Kuzma, who spent the first four years of his NBA career in Los Angeles after being selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, will be moving across the country rather than just elsewhere in California. However, he didn’t sound too disappointed about becoming a Wizard instead of a King, expressing excitement about the opportunity to team up with Bradley Beal in Washington.
“I was super hyped, obviously, because it’s a better situation (than Sacramento),” Kuzma said. “Going to Sac would’ve been fun, I would’ve went crazy for sure. But to have the opportunity to play with Brad Beal, someone that is trying to really be a winner in this league … It’s just a perfect opportunity. It’s a lot of guys that have chips on their shoulders, everyone’s ready to prove something. That’s when something can be special.”
Kuzma isn’t the only one whose 2021 offseason would look a lot different if the Lakers had completed a deal for Hield instead of Westbrook. That decision had a major impact on the subsequent summer moves made by the Lakers, Kings, and Wizards. If L.A. had gone in another direction, it would’ve had a ripple effect on a handful of teams and players, including perhaps Richaun Holmes, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, among others.