Kevin Durant's trade request had the entire NBA in limbo over the last two months. Now that it's over and KD is staying put, teams around the league hoping to land either KD or Kyrie Irving will put their backup plans into motion. Such was the case when the Los Angeles Lakers traded Talen Horton-Tucker for Patrick Beverley last night.
It is the first objectively good move made by the Lakers in over a calendar year. They had an inexplicable fondness for THT and finally moved him for Beverley, who fits much better into the mold of a win-now, LeBron James-led team. He will be very useful for Los Angeles.
The obvious problem that has already been brought up is the presence of Russell Westbrook. Because Westbrook really dislikes Beverley! Not in that fake NBA beef way, but in a very real way. Their feud began way back in 2013, when Westbrook collided with Beverley and tore his meniscus during the playoffs, leading to multiple surgeries and torpedoing the Oklahoma City Thunder's chances at a deep postseason run in the process. Since then, they've rarely been able to share the court together without getting snippy. And Westbrook gave us one of the great basketball quotes of this era when he ranted after a game that "Pat Bev trick y'all, man."
There is legitimate dislike here. But we've seen plenty of guys push aside personal feelings in pursuit of winning. Being on the same team as LeBron demands a level of personal sacrifice anyway, so this shouldn't be a problem. Right?
Well... We just watched an entire season where the Lakers were rather dysfunctional, and as far as we can tell it was at least in part due to Westbrook's inability to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. Los Angeles did not need triple-double Westbrook. They needed a Westbrook who busted his ass on defense while setting screens and cutting on offense, choosing his shots very carefully. The Lakers were at full strength for a very small percentage of last year's schedule, true, but Westbrook just didn't do any of the things his team needed. Frank Vogel got fired because of it.
Now Darvin Ham is the head coach and he reportedly will have the backing of the front office to do whatever it takes to win games. Including benching Westbrook. How do we think Westbrook would react in the likely scenario that Beverley starts over him? Or, at the very least, closes games instead of him? It makes all the basketball sense in the world to let Westbrook run the second team and have Beverley's defense on the court when it matters most.
The Lakers know all that better than we do. Which is why many are assuming they have a trade in place for Westbrook already. Locker room chemistry is crucial and given everything that's been reported about Westbrook's attitude while in LA it's very difficult to see a future in which he and Beverley wear the same jersey and get along just fine. Trading for Beverley and then sending Westbrook to, say, the Pacers in exchange for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner is a pair of moves that makes a ton of sense. Just trading for Beverley doesn't.
Maybe we are all wrong. Maybe Westbrook had his come to Jesus moment this offseason about where his career is heading and is willing to put aside everything in the pursuit of his first championship. But that doesn't seem likely, does it?