Major news coming out Houston yesterday revealed that Rockets guard Russell Westbrook has requested a trade just one season after his debut with the franchise.
After the 2019-20 campaign fell flat in the playoffs, it became clear that something wasn't quite right and that things weren't headed in a good direction for the Rockets. While it has been reported that James Harden is remaining committed to his team, Westbrook, who wants to return to the role he had in Oklahoma City, has had enough.
So, the focus for the Rockets now shifts on finding a deal for Westbrook, which will be much easier said than done. The former MVP brings a lot to the table, but his game has a few fundamental flaws that make absorbing him and his large contract a major risk. We've already listed several "dream" scenarios that could happen with the star guard, but one team, in particular, seems well-suited to emerge as a participant in the Westbrook sweepstakes: the Los Angeles Lakers.
As they approach an important period, acquiring Russ would be huge in not only maintaining their status as title contenders but also broadening their efforts to look ahead and stay afloat in the post-LeBron era.
Trade Package: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Sign and Trade), Alex Caruso, Danny Green For Russell Westbrook
Lakers Add A Superstar Playmaker
The Los Angeles Lakers didn't win the title because of their depth. In fact, the inconsistency from their role-players was a huge cause for concern among both critics and supports of the Purple and Gold. There is no doubt that it was the combined might of LeBron James and Anthony Davis that got them over the top.
Will Westbrook mess with that chemistry or will he add potency to an established duo? Before the Lakers give up so much of their depth, they'll have to determine the answer to that fundamental question.
For Russ, he has expressed his desire to return to his roots and become the playmaker/ballhandler he was in OKC. While LeBron has been handling most of those responsibilities for his club, playing off-ball might not be a bad idea given his age and the increasing need for him to preserve his body.
Say what you want about Westbrook, but his relentless interior attack often creates opportunities for others, and the star guard is good at finding and utilizing those opportunities. He led the league in assists twice over his 12-year career and averaged 10.7 in that category just two seasons ago, during his last stint with the Thunder.
If Westbrook embraces this role, it could work bounds for the Lakers, especially with Anthony Davis being on the receiving end of many of those passes. As for LeBron, he has, historically, been most effective with the ball in his hands. He's a better passer and smarter offensive player than Westbrook. Again, though, his increasing age might force him to adapt his game a bit and James might benefit from embracing more of an off-ball role at this point in his career. The Lakers seem to at least partially agree, as they've been trying to relieve those duties from Bron for a while now.
Rockets Re-Tool With Shooters
With Daryl Morey and Mike D'Antoni gone, the Rockets are in the midst of a major identity crisis. Over the past few hours, multiple stories have been reported of problems within the organization that includes players feeling underappreciated, excessive catering by the franchise to the stars, and several verbal exchanges that created a rift between the players.
If Houston wants to remain semi-relevant in the West, they're going to have to trade Westbrook and likely many other players currently on the roster.
Assuming the Rockets don't decide to opt for a complete rebuild, Harden will continue to be the focal point of their team, and they will be looking for players who can fit with his playstyle.
More than anything, Houston will be prioritizing shooters, and a package including Kuzma, Green, KCP, and Caruso certainly checks that box. While new head coach Stephen Silas hasn't yet indicated his game plan, it's not hard to imagine it will heavily feature Harden, who is notorious for being an insanely high usage player. Danny Green and KCP are ideal fits for this system, in that they should be able to knock down open looks on the perimeter after Harden drives.
The most intriguing return for Houston is Kyle Kuzma, who most basketball fans have already, mostly, given up on. After optimism that he would be a consistent and dependable third-option for the Purple and Gold, he never really lived up to that role, thanks to inconsistent play and poor decision-making on the offensive end. It's hard to say how he would fit with Harden, but a change of scenery could be good for him, and there's no reason to think he can't improve his game at 25-years-old.