When the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship in 2020, it felt like this could be the next dynasty over the next three to four years. The team was all in on winning and getting LeBron James those two extra rings to tie Michael Jordan. The team locked up Anthony Davis and made moves to surround him with talent. Instead, injuries and lack of chemistry doomed the Lakers, which led to the Lakers swinging for the fences by acquiring Russell Westbrook last offseason.
Nearly 10 years ago, the Lakers tried to hit the home run ball by acquiring 38-year old Steve Nash to pair alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. Both of these trades did and will have long-lasting effects on the franchise. The biggest question at hand is: Which was worse?
Package: Suns trade Steve Nash for 2013 First-Round Pick, 2013 Second-Round Pick, 2014 Second-Round Pick, 2015-First Round Pick
Nash had a great career for the Lakers. He was a two-time MVP during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns. While he was there, he was never able to get over the hump and get past Kobe Bryant. Years later, he was given the chance to team up with Bryant with three other All-Stars. The idea of the pick-and-roll with Howard teamed up with a two-time championship duo in Bryant and Gasol, looked good on paper, but it never materialized.
With that said, this goes down as one of the worst sign-and-trade deals ever. Over a three-year contract, Nash played only 65 games and it cost the Lakers four draft picks. Nash was plagued with injuries and the Lakers never made it back to the NBA Finals. Instead, Howard bolted for Texas, while Nash eventually retired after two tough seasons.
The draft picks the Lakers gave up don't look terrible now. The team gave up two first and second-round picks. Those picks were used on Nemanja Nedovic, Alex Oriakhi, and Johnny O’Bryant. Meanwhile, the 2015 first-round pick ultimately turned into a 2018 first-round pick, which the Suns used on Mikal Bridges, who turned into a pretty solid two-way player in this league.
This hyped superteam was a super fail. Howard fell out of favor with Mike D’Antoni’s pick and roll heavy schemes. He then left for the Rockets. As for Nash, he played in 15 games in his second season and the Lakers had one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
Package: Wizards trade Russell Westbrook, 2024 Second-Round Pick, 2028 Second Round Pick for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and 2021 First Round Pick
There was a time when the Washington Wizards looked like they won this deal. The team was leading the Eastern Conference at one point this season. Now, Bradley Beal is out for the year, while the team is looking to next season. Once Kristaps Porzingis comes back, the core of Beal, Porzingis, and Kuzma has potential. Watching Kuzma average 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds has to sting the heart of a Lakers fan just a tad.
Kuzma led the Lakers in three-point field goals last season, while Caldwell-Pope was second. When both were traded, it left LeBron James as the top three-point shooter on the team. James does a lot of great things, but shooting the three has never been his top weapon in his arsenal. Plus, taking on the $44 million contract that has a $47 million player’s option for next season cash strapped the Lakers from adding another shooter to the team.
The move for Westbrook has completely messed up the rotation of the team. It also cost the team players like Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso in the offseason. James has had to play center at times, while Davis looks all out of sorts when having to play center. Along with injuries, guys like Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, and Dwight Howard have seen starter’s minutes this season. Westbrook forced the Lakers to look for players off the scrap heap because of the money he is being paid.
Was it worth it? Westbrook is averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, which are all down from last year. Offensively, the Lakers are 10th in the league in points per game, while allowing the 26th most points. That is troubling for a team that ranked second in points allowed last season while scoring the 22nd most points per game.
Which Deal Was Worse?
Both of these deals have common similarities. For starters, Nash was thinking about joining the New York Knicks. Instead, he was persuaded to join the Lakers after a strong push from Bryant, via Cork Gaines of Business Insider.
“After the 2011-12 season, the Lakers completed a sign-and-trade deal with the Phoenix Suns for Nash. At the time, the move was considered one that would keep the Lakers in title contention, and, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, Nash was only swayed to join the Lakers "after a determined push from [Kobe] Bryant."
Then, you have James as the main reason for why Westbrook was added to the Lakers. It was James that orchestrated the meeting between Davis and Westbrook. It was there that the three talked about what was necessary for them to be champions again, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
“About two weeks ago, Russell Westbrook went to LeBron James' home, and together they and Anthony Davis had a conversation about the All-Star guard joining James and Davis on the Lakers. They talked about putting their egos aside and playing as one in their quest to bring the Lakers another NBA championship. Westbrook talked about how his only intention was winning and coming back home to Los Angeles to become a champion. James and Davis talked about the two of them changing positions if that was best for the team — James moving from small forward to power forward and Davis from power forward to center. Westbrook let James and Davis know he doesn't mind playing off the ball when James initiates the offense, something he did while playing alongside James Harden with the Houston Rockets.
There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into the specifics. Both Bryant and James wanted a third superstar to join their team. We can probably say that Bryant’s idea was the worse of the two. Westbrook is going to play more games this season than Nash did in his three combined seasons. With that said, Nash was coming off a season where he averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists. Chris Paul was contending for an assists title before his injury and is 37 years old. It’s not uncommon to see these great point guards achieve this much at their age.
If you are Nash, why would you say no to Bryant? At the time, the Lakers were just two years removed from winning their second championship and making the NBA Finals for the third straight season. If you are Nash, who never won a championship, you have to look at that opportunity and think this was a good deal.
That is why the worst deal is easily Westbrook. For starters, the three talked about how James and Davis were willing to change positions, while Westbrook was willing to play off the ball. Even the common fan knew that was not going to work. Westbrook thrives with the ball in his hands, which is why he can be seen as a stat stuffer. When the Lakers acquired Westbrook, it put two players who are used to having the ball usage of about 30%. That’s nearly two-thirds of touches, so where were the rest going to go, especially when opposing teams clogged the paint?
As for the package, the Lakers were already spread thin on three-point shooting. What was the fix? They traded their two best three-point shooters for a player that owns a career average of 30.5%. When you look back, the Lakers could have acquired DeMar DeRozan and Buddy Hield this past offseason. DeRozan would have spaced the floor with his mid-range game alone, while James would have gone back to playing point guard. When the Lakers won the title, James led the league in assists. You can bet he would have found Hield for plenty of open threes with his ability to attack the basket.
It didn’t make sense when the Lakers acquired Westbrook because it paired a player who likes to run downhill with another player that likes to run downhill with no great outside shooters. Carmelo Anthony is not the same player he was once while asking unproven players like Malik Monk and Kent Bazemore to step up was asking too much. The Lakers could have had a complete team with a proven All-Star in DeRozan and an underrated player like Hield. At least when Nash joined the Lakers, Howard was still seen as the game’s best center. Westbrook had questions about his overall game and the Lakers just looked right past it.