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The Russell Westbrook Trade Killed the LeBron James Era in LA

Ryan Phillips
Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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The Los Angeles Lakers have always been a franchise of eras centered around one all-time great player. George Mikan, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Koby Bryant and, beginning in 2018, LeBron James. A single, terrible move has killed the LeBron James Era.

When the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook before the 2021-22 season, the franchise ended any hope of winning a championship for the foreseeable future. The deal, which I blasted at the time, made absolutely no sense and was destined to fail. It has turned out far worse than anyone could have imagined and the LeBron's Hollywood script has been irreparably damaged as a result.

Adding Westbrook, one of the worst shooters in the NBA, to a roster centered around James and Anthony Davis was the height of stupidity. LeBron gets the vast majority of his points inside the 3-point line, Davis scores mostly in the paint. What was missing was shooters to help spread the floor around those two stars. Westbrook is the exact opposite. It has played out exactly how anyone who knows basketball knew it would.

The Lakers have started 0-4 this season after going 33-49 last season. That's not all on Westbrook, but his $47 million contract has prevented LA from making any real moves for players who could actually help. Instead, the Lakers are shooting 22.3 percent from 3-point range, while Westbrook is shooting 28.9 percent from the field on 12.7 shots per game.

Westbook's PER through the three games he's played is 8.66, which is so bad it's actually funny. He had the worst season of his career in 2021-22 and his PER was 15.01. So yeah, things are really bad.

While making the move from Westbrook was a disaster of epic proportions other decisions from the Lakers' front office have helped sink the franchise. General manager Rob Pelinka has failed to embrace modern basketball and his ignored finding good shooters to surround his two centerpiece players. The Lakers were 22nd in 3-point shooting NBA-wide last season, and 21st the previous two seasons. In fact, when they made their championship run in the Bubble in 2020, it came after players like Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got hot from deep. Importing one of the worst shooters in the NBA and expecting things to work was absolutely asinine.

For the work he's done to completely kneecap the organization, Pelinka was recently rewarded with a contract extension through 2026. It was yet another puzzling decision from Jeanie Buss.

James committed to the Lakers for two more seasons over the summer and Westbrook's contract expires after this campaign. There will be room under the salary cap to make additions next offseason. But given how the franchise has positioned itself, it's hard to see a quick turnaround coming. Rather than investing all that cap space in a single star, the Lakers would be wise to spread it around to a number of effective shooters and 3-and-D types. Surround James with the weapons he needs to thrive, not yet another "big name."

For now, the Lakers are in the tank and they won't even be rewarded for it in the 2023 NBA Draft. Thanks to the lopsided Davis trade the New Orleans Pelicans can swap picks with LA if they so choose.

LeBron James led the Lakers to a title once, but we shouldn't expect a repeat of that feat.

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