Russell Westbrook “took control of his situation” when he saw a chance to join the Lakers, according to Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a thorough look at how the team remade its roster over the offseason.
A Southern California native, Westbrook had dreamed of returning home to play and thought he might be headed to the Clippers along with Kawhi Leonard two years ago. When a second chance emerged with the Lakers in August, Westbrook was determined to make it happen.
He was among several potential additions discussed in a “war room” setting of players that was led by LeBron James and included Anthony Davis and Jared Dudley. They saw Westbrook as an asset because he’s a perennial All-Star who can share playmaking duties with LeBron. However, he still had two years remaining on his contract and the Wizards weren’t looking to move him.
Although The Athletic’s sources say Westbrook would have been willing to stay in Washington if a trade didn’t happen, he decided to act on the morning of the draft when he heard that the Lakers were near a deal with the Kings to acquire Buddy Hield. Westbrook approached Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and asked him to work out a trade with L.A.
Leonsis agreed and Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard called Lakers GM Rob Pelinka to start trade talks. Within a few hours, a deal was in place to give up Westbrook and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 selection in this year’s draft.
There’s much more information packed in The Athletic report, which is worth checking out in full. Here are a few highlights:
- Another player who received serious consideration from the Lakers was DeMar DeRozan, who also hails from Southern California and eventually signed with the Bulls. He met twice with James and had several other phone calls. DeRozan’s representatives had concerns over whether the Lakers’ front office was on board with the players’ plans, but sources tell The Athletic that Pelinka “strongly considered” a sign-and-trade offer that would have sent Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope to the Spurs. L.A. couldn’t come to an agreement with San Antonio or on a new contract for DeRozan, and the proposed sign-and-trade never advanced to the stage where it was presented to owner Jeanie Buss.
- The Kings’ front office was left “steaming” over the Lakers’ decision to pull out of the Hield deal. It would have come at a lower cost — only Kuzma and Harrell were needed to match salaries — so the Lakers could have kept Caldwell-Pope and their first-round pick. As an elite three-point shooter, Hield might seem like a more natural fit alongside James and Davis, but the Lakers believe Westbrook will make them a better team in the playoffs.
- With limited resources to fill out their roster after the trade, both James and Westbrook contacted Carmelo Anthony before the official start of free agency. Anthony was still hoping to hear from the Trail Blazers and ultimately received interest from the Knicks and Sixers, but he opted to join James, who was a longtime friend. The chance to win a title attracted other low-cost veterans such as Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore to what became the league’s oldest team with an average age of 30.9 years.
- James has always enjoyed close relationships with the veterans on his team and was particularly upset when Dudley wasn’t re-signed. Dudley was 36 and coming off an MCL tear, and the Lakers felt it was important to maximize every roster spot. He was offered other positions with the organization, but opted to become an assistant to Jason Kidd in Dallas.
- James, Davis and Dudley also talked about Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, but the Lakers didn’t have the assets to land either of them. Sources tell The Athletic that Westbrook tried to convince Beal that they should both ask to be traded out of Washington. Although Beal didn’t agree, he supported Westbrook’s desire to get to L.A. The Lakers’ group also targeted free agent guard Kyle Lowry, who eventually signed with the Heat.
- The Lakers announced an extension this summer with Frank Vogel to avoid having him enter the season as a lame-duck coach. However, multiple sources told The Athletic that the extension only covers one year, which takes Vogel through the end of the 2022/23 season.
- Many people in the Lakers’ organization were frustrated by the decision not to compete with the four-year, $37MM offer that Alex Caruso received from the Bulls, per The Athletic. He has become of the NBA’s best role players after starting in the G League, and many believed he was worth what it would have cost to keep him.