As of Wednesday evening, the Lakers were preparing to swap one Russell for another in a bid to save their season.
This time, they might have a stronger grasp of what they’re getting into.
The franchise is poised to bring in a package of players headlined by D’Angelo Russell, the 26-year-old guard they selected No. 2 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as first reported by ESPN and confirmed to Southern California News Group. The Lakers are also expected to add guard Malik Beasley and forward Jarred Vanderbilt, a shooter and a rebounder respectively from the Utah Jazz in the three-team deal, which is expected to become official Thursday morning. From the Lakers’ perspective, it adds shooting and length to a roster that has been lacking both of those things for so much of the season.
In return, the Lakers will give up their 2027 first-round draft pick, protected if it falls within the first four spots, but also move on from Russell Westbrook – the 34-year-old former MVP who never found a fit on the court alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. ESPN also reported that Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones, two players who had little traction in the Lakers’ rotation, were sent to the Jazz as part of the deal. The full trade also has veteran point guard Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker going from Utah to Minnesota along with second-round picks.
A person involved in the deal told Southern California News Group that Westbrook, who has a thorny past with the Utah market, will likely be waived instead of joining the roster, potentially injecting him into the buyout market. According to Bleacher Report, the Chicago Bulls and the Clippers would have some interest in Westbrook once he is a free agent.
The Lakers hope that the deal resets their locker room, recently strained by rumors that they sought a deal with mercurial guard Kyrie Irving, for a run at a Western Conference playoff spot. Since starting the season 2-10, the Lakers have struggled to vault even into play-in position (spots 7 through 10) and as of Wednesday afternoon sat in 13th place in the West at 25-30, four games behind the sixth-place Dallas Mavericks with 27 games to play.
In Russell, the Lakers add a guard who has shot efficiently this season (career-best 56.7% eFG, 39.1% from 3-point range) while averaging 17.9 points and 6.2 assists in 54 games. But Lakers fans will know him best from his two-year stint to begin his career, two ugly seasons mostly marked by inexperience that saw the Lakers win 17 and 26 games, respectively. Russell was, at one time, considered part of the “young core” that also included Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson – all players who have gone on to forge respectable careers.
Russell was shipped out in the 2017 offseason as the Lakers made way for Lonzo Ball, their ballyhooed No. 2 draft pick out of UCLA (a famous incident catching Nick Young on candid camera is one of his lasting memories as a rookie). But Russell made good in Brooklyn, getting selected as an All-Star reserve in the 2018-19 season. He was traded to Golden State in 2019 as part of a deal for Kevin Durant (the Lakers had some interest in signing him at the time, then Minnesota acquired him in a midseason trade, pairing him with Karl Anthony-Towns.
Russell is in the last year of a four-year deal that pays him $31.4 million this season, setting up the Lakers to make a decision on whether to pay the 6-foot-4 guard this summer. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was a part of the front office (then working under Magic Johnson) that made the decision to deal Russell in 2017.
For the Lakers, it marks the end of a superteam experiment that floundered almost from the start. Westbrook wound up playing 130 games for the Lakers, averaging 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists. While the Lakers heralded the 2021 arrival of the NBA’s triple-double king and the homecoming of an L.A. native, the team (which dealt with multiple injuries to Davis) was just 58-79 in his year-and-a-half tenure, and he was clearly frustrated after his first season ended without a playoff berth, saying in his exit interview: “I was never given a fair chance.”
The Lakers fired 2020 championship-winning coach Frank Vogel, who had a strained relationship with Westbrook, in favor of rookie head coach Darvin Ham, who managed to convince the 2017 MVP to take a role coming off the bench. But though Westbrook accepted the sixth-man role, he rarely seemed comfortable within it – and recent trade deadline talks seemed to only make him bristle more as James said he was “disappointed” the Lakers didn’t trade for Irving in an ESPN interview.
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In his last game with the Lakers, Westbrook could be seen barking down his own sideline – ESPN reported that he got into a heated discussion with Ham in the locker room at halftime. Westbrook also declined media requests Monday and Tuesday in the wake of James’ public pining for Irving.
Beyond Russell, the Lakers should have use for Beasley and Vanderbilt, two players who had carved out rotation roles with the Jazz. At 6-4, Beasley averaged 13.4 points on 35.6% 3-point shooting in his seventh NBA season. At 6-9, Vanderbilt is a rangy defender and rebounder averaging 8.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt are all former teammates of Patrick Beverley from the 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that advanced out of the play-in tournament before losing a first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
In one sense, the Lakers fulfilled Pelinka’s promise to use all resources available to help James, the 38-year-old who became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Tuesday, “to the end” and into contention. The Lakers retained their 2029 first-round pick, one of their valued assets. The Lakers also made a deal to acquire forward Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards last month.
Toscano-Anderson and Jones finished their Laker tenures with just 52 combined appearances and 541 combined minutes.