Tuesday, May 30 2023
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The Lakers finally traded Russell Westbrook on Wednesday, ending the tireless speculation as to when, or if, they would actually do so. It only cost them one first-round pick (2027, top-four protected). 

That’s the first big win of this move for the Lakers. They didn’t have to give up the 2029 pick as well. After this season they’ll either swap 2023 picks with New Orleans or retain their own, giving them two firsts that can potentially be moved prior to this summer’s draft. 

In the meantime, the Lakers get three good players (D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley) that will give them at least a fighting chance to make the playoffs this season, which, on paper, doesn’t have to be a total waste anymore, without committing guaranteed future money to any of them. 

Russell is on an expiring deal. Beasley has a $16.5 million team option. Vanderbilt is only guaranteed $300,000 as long as he is waived by June 30. The Lakers could trade him before that; even if they keep him, his $4.7 million 2023-24 number isn’t terribly punitive, particularly for a player as useful as Vanderbilt. 

In other words, the Lakers still have the ability to clear at least the $47 million that would’ve come off their books with the expiration of Westbrook’s deal, leaving them with something north of $30 million in cap space. On the other hand, they also have the Bird rights to sign Russell and Beasley if they see them as building blocks, with those two aforementioned picks to further solidify the roster. 

Long story short, the Lakers avoided essentially forfeiting this season by paying one future pick. It’s a very valuable one, potentially. But worth the price to give LeBron James and Anthony Davis some real help. It’s going to go a long way for Darvin Ham not have to play these tiny three-guard lineups anymore. 

Vanderbilt slots as a brick-solid defender against scoring wings and a roaming disruptor. Beasley is streaky but at times an elite 3-point shooter, something the Lakers desperately need. Russell, meanwhile, is having the most efficient shooting season of his career and can obviously assist LeBron with half-court creation. 

Do these guys make the Lakers a true contender? My instinct is to say no, but I’m not ruling it out. These are good players. More importantly, they fit with LeBron and Anthony Davis, unlike Westbrook, who was a fish out of water from the minute he put on a Lakers uniform. You give LeBron and Davis a functional, well-suited supporting cast, and they can do real damage. 

The Lakers also might not be done. Perhaps they package another future pick with Patrick Beverley and go hunting for another needle-moving contributor. My guess if they’re done dealing, and they did pretty well. It was always believed that it would cost them two future picks to shed Westbrook, but they were able to do it for one while also bringing back three starting-caliber contributors, all without compromising the flexibility moving into the summer that they have fought to maintain. 

Source: CBSSports.com


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