Despite the Suns and Kevin Durant stealing the headlines, the Lakers are still trying to do their thing

The trade for Russell Westbrook isn’t the only reason the Los Angeles Lakers have been so frustrated in the past two seasons. The list of other contributing factors includes but is not limited to injuries that have cost LeBron James and Anthony Davis 103 combined games since the start of the 2021–22 season; the ill-fated decision to pay Talen Horton-Tucker rather than Alex Caruso, and a couple of free agent signing spells that resulted in two different crops of rotation fillers – one mostly old, the other mostly young – that couldn’t really shoot.

However, a lot of what Los Angeles is worried about goes back to the Westbrook trade — to how general manager Rob Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers think tank reacted to a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the Suns in 2021. deciding to trade about half of the rotation (Kyle Kuzma, Kentavius ​​Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell, plus the 22nd pick in the 2021 NBA draft, which was Pacers big man Isaiah Jackson) for one former MVP.

In the pursuit of a hardy, all-star-level playmaker who could theoretically ease James and Davis’ job of handling the ball and creating shots, and who could help keep the team afloat if (when) one of the two megastars missed games, the Lakers sacrificed their identity. thanks to which they won the 2020 championship. In one fell swoop, Los Angeles went from being a team that matched James and Davis in size, sharpshooters, and athletic guards, to a team that… well, with Westbrook, who has already been traded twice (Oklahoma City for Chris Paul and Houston for John Wall) since his supermax contract renewal began and owed $91.3 million through 2023, which ensured that Pelinka and company would have to shop in the basket for most of the Lakers roster.

The seal has caused corrosion. It doesn’t matter who coached, whether it was Westbrook play with James and Davis or fly alonewhether he started or retired from the bench, a role that, to his credit, Westbrook eventually accepted and attacked with characteristic energy – the pieces never converged. The Lakers were under .500 in 13 monthscame out 13th overall in the West on Wednesday and risks sending the Pelicans into the top five in the 2023 NBA draft.

Stefan Milic / Yahoo Sports Illustration
The Lakers are now counting on D’Angelo Russell’s big contribution. (Stefan Milic/Sportzshala Sports Illustration)

Again: there’s more to Westbrook. However, the trade that made him the Lakers was an original sin… and on Wednesday, the Lakers may have found some redemption.

Westbrook goes to Utah. Very briefly, some suspect, as the biggest name in a three-team, eight-player, four-draft trade… and perhaps the least significant part of it. (Chris Haynes of Turner Sports reports that if and when the Jazz buy out the remainder of Westbrook’s contract, he could end up with Clippers or Bulls.) The Lakers effectively canceled Westbrook’s original deal, turning his expiring $47.1 million contract into three players on smaller deals — the Timberwolves’ prodigal son D’Angelo Russell and the Jazz’s Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt that added shots, rebounds, energy and depth to a roster of Los Angeles desperately in need of all of the above.

Remission of sins, as always, is costly. The Lakers’ touted 2027 first-round pick — one of the last remaining premium assets in the Los Angeles closet after the last two blockbusters — is now under the control of Jazz CEO Danny Ainge. However, the cost was not as high as it could have been: after reportedly indicates to other teams that the price of Vanderbilt and Beasley would be “each player’s equivalent of a first-round pick”, Utah sent them both to the Lakers. And veteran point guard Mike Conley to the Timberwolves for first place overall – protected choiceat the same time, which the Lakers will keep if they make it into the top four in the 2027 draft and will convert to second round selection in the same year if not transmitting.

Considering Utah’s reported scores, this doesn’t sound like a big catch. If you really never expected Ainge to get as many firsts for three junior players as he did for Donovan Mitchell, then getting one Lakers pick four years later — two years after James and Davis should to go free will when absolutely everything about the NBA and the fabric of reality can be completely different – it could go up to fifth place overall, it seems to be all right.

Add to that the $35.5 million in guaranteed pay for 2023-2024 they took off by moving Conley, Beasley and Vanderbilt, and the fact that Westbrook, Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson have expiring contracts, and the Jazz actually paid off. Right now, the only jazz players signed to non-rookie deals that will run past the end of next season are Lauri Markkanen, who just made his first All-Star team and is the backbone of everything that comes next, and Colleen Sexton, who together with Conley moving on, seems ready get the keys to attacking Will Hardy with a chance to prove he could be Utah’s starting point guard in the future.

Jazz can open as much as $60 million in salary cap this summer; they can use it to sign players or, more likely, loan it out to teams that want money by giving them a negotiated “get out of jail free” card… players to add to the cache, which now includes 15 new products for the next seven years go with Markkanen, Sexton and newcomers Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji. What does Ainge, general manager of Justin Zanik & Co. can turn it all, remains to be seen. However, as a starting point for recovery, this doesn’t sound so bad.

How the end of the Timberwolves stuff sounds probably depends on what you want to hear. While Russell was instrumental in the Minnesota playoffs last season and helped calm the Wolves down from a rocky start to the Rudy Gobert era, he and the team were reportedly far apart in contract renewal negotiations, and it is set to unlimited free will. While Russell has found his shooting punch over the past two months, the long-awaited offensive chemistry between him and Gobert never materialized. Among the 69 partnerships that have had at least 250 pick-and-rolls this season, according to Second Spectrum tracking, Russell-Gobert is ranked 47th in points scored per chance; Wolves scored just 109.9 points per 100 non-junk properties share the floor with themhe would have been ranked 29th in the league for the entire season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Enter Conley, who spent three years developing that chemistry with Gobert—according to Second Spectrum, the two played more than 3,000 pick-and-rolls in that time—and eventually found a rhythm that helped propel jazz consistently to the top. offensive charts.

“I had to change my game a lot in order to dictate to him how to pass the ball to him and use it in the best possible way,” Conley recently said Athletic. “It worked and we made it work and it just takes time and everyone needs to be patient.”

Patience isn’t necessarily a virtue you can afford when you’ve given up more than half a decade of black capital for a piece that doesn’t quite fit. So team president Tim Connelly went out and got Gobert’s old pick-and-roll teammate, who has 7.7 assists per seat. seventh in the NBA this season, which has an untouched 4.46-to-1 aid to turnover ratiowho is shooting from range at 36.2% this season and whose modest utilization rate creates space for Anthony Edwards’ growing offensive power to play an even bigger role in Minnesota’s offense, which given how dynamic and productive Edwards has been in the last few months, should be pure positive.

On top of that, Conley’s $24.4 million salary import for next season ensures that a Wolves team that should be will end next season keeps a sizable pay slot open, which is an important team building tool for facilitating next steps and adding new talent when you’re over the limit. You may remember how the Warriors turned Kevin Durant’s departure to Brooklyn into a trade that brought Russell back, in part to leave a pay slot open. It proved prophetic when, midway through Russell’s first year with Golden State, Golden State moved him… to Minnesota, bringing back Andrew Wiggins, who will play a huge role in the Warriors’ title run in 2022.

In exchange for a player who is older than Russell by more than nine years and with Another $14.3 million is guaranteed for next season. than future free agent Russell, the wolves will be back three picks in the second round and the right to take charge of Nickail Alexander-Walker, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard who has proven himself as a scorer and playmaker in New Orleans and Utah but has yet to carve out a consistent niche in four pro seasons. This summer, he will move to limited free will; if he jumps into the next pair…


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