The LA Lakers are pushing hard to win the NBA title next season and their trade with former MVP Russell Westbrook says so emphatically.
The Washington Wizards sent nine-time All-Star Westbrook and two future second-round draft picks to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the No.22 pick in this year’s draft, which they then distributed to the Indiana Pacers.
Westbrook was born in Long Beach, California which is of course in the Los Angeles area. A homecoming is good, but at 32, Westbrook was traded to help the Lakers win right now.
The playmaker is a two-time scoring champion who won the 2016-17 NBA MVP award. He’s a three-time leader in assist and two-time All-Star MVP, but he’s never won an NBA title.
He became the first man to average a triple-double in an NBA season in 2016-17, and he’s repeated that feat three times since.
The NBA now has two true super-teams, the LA Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers have LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook. That makes two MVPs and 34 All Star appearances between the trio.
The Nets have Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. These three men are in their prime as James is 36, but LeBron is easily one of the greatest players to ever play the game that only won a championship two seasons ago.
The Golden State Warriors will host Klay Thompson again this year, who will once again make a formidable backcourt with Steph Curry. If you factor in Draymond Green or even Anthon Wiggins, you could say Golden State is a great team as well.
It’s the era of the NBA now. These teams are arguably more stacked than the legendary Chicago Bulls who ruled the 1990s with Michal Jordan at the forefront.
Let’s be honest: Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. Having Jordan in his prime on any team was pretty much a great team. Yet his main lieutenant was Scottie Pippen, and years later Dennis Rodman also helped in this regard. It was the trio of great team that Chicago had.
How does that compare today? Jordan was the driver. Rodman performed his role of rim protector, screen setter and rebounder to perfection while Pippen was one of the best two-way players in NBA history, only under-celebrated because he operated alongside the GOAT itself, Michael Jordan.
The Lakers have been a formidable line-up, but they have a lot of work to build around them. The Violet and Yellow had the 21st best three-point percentage in the league last season and they need shooters.
Westbrook is 30.5% of three in his career and is not the answer, but he has a strong influence on the game in many other ways and relieves James in particular.
If they can put three and D swingmen around them, the Lakers seem like a great bet to win the title, but that’s a big if. Westbrook didn’t mix very well with James Harden, also dominant in the ball, in Houston, so it’s hard to say what the operation will be like with LeBron.
Conversely, Brooklyn had the league’s second-best three-point percentage last year and found a way to launch an offense that includes Harden, Irving and Durant. The only downside was that they couldn’t do more because of the injuries.
Injuries are also what ended up bogging down the Lakers in the playoffs. But now, with their trio of superstars and another former All Star at center Andre Drummond, they have the core of a serious team.
The problem with super teams is that the headlines are only part of the puzzle. This is how you build the rest of the roster that takes you across the line and you could argue that’s what the Bulls have done best around the biggest centerpiece imaginable.
Take the 2015-16 Warriors for example. They broke a 73-9 record – which broke the 1995-96 Bulls’ record of 72-10 – with core Curry, Thompson and Green. But, around them, they had talents like Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli, Mareese Speights and Andrew Bogut and they all continued in different ways.
They had to sacrifice a number of those talents to allow Durant to join them the following season, and their record was slightly worse at 67-15. But, they won the title with Durant, while the previous season they lost a 3-1 lead in the final to – wait – LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.