LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers ended their ill-considered two-year experiment with Russell Westbrook on Wednesday, agreeing to trade the 2017 MVP to the Utah Jazz in a three-team deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.
Westbrook, 34, joined his hometown team following a 2021 trade with the Washington Wizards. Cast as the third member of a “Big Three” alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook proved to be a poor fit as the Lakers missed the 2022 playoffs and entered Wednesday’s action as the West’s 13th seed.
Shortly after the trade, questions over Westbrook’s offensive role, questionable decision-making, inefficient shooting and lack of focus on defense created problems for coach Frank Vogel, who was fired at the end of last season. After the Lakers were unable to trade Westbrook over the summer, Darvin Ham, Vogel’s replacement, offered Westbrook a clean slate entering this season. However, Ham quickly moved Westbrook to the bench after erratic late-game decisions early in the season.
Westbrook has averaged 15.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game this season, though he has appeared to chafe at his sixth man role, telling reporters on opening night that his rotation change might have contributed to his hamstring soreness. Then, during a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, Westbrook was slow to leave the court shortly before halftime and was involved in a heated verbal exchange with Ham at halftime.
Throughout their time together, James and Westbrook shared an uneasy alliance. Neither player was openly critical of the other, but James openly pined for the Lakers to trade for Kyrie Irving this week. Such a deal would have required Westbrook to be moved, creating added unspoken tension once the Brooklyn Nets traded Irving to the Dallas Mavericks.
The rebuilding Jazz will probably pursue a buyout agreement with the veteran guard, who is on a $47.1 million expiring contract. If an agreement is reached, Westbrook, a nine-time all-star, would be an unrestricted free agent. Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers are said to have mutual interest if he is bought out, according to people with knowledge of the situation, in a move that could reunite Westbrook with Paul George, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.
Russell, 26, will return to the Lakers, who selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. A scoring guard with a soft-touch jumper who made the 2019 all-star team as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Russell has faced questions about his motor and drive during recent stops with the Golden State Warriors and Timberwolves. Minnesota traded for Russell in 2020 with the hope of pairing him with Karl-Anthony Towns, but the duo enjoyed limited success together.
After trading for Rudy Gobert and re-signing Towns to a long-term extension last summer, the Timberwolves opted against giving Russell an extension this year. Russell has averaged 17.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game this season, and he is on track to becoming one of this summer’s top unrestricted free agents. As the Lakers seek to make a push into the West’s play-in tournament, Russell should serve as a floor-spacing shooter and secondary ballhandler alongside James.
Like recent trade acquisition Rui Hachimura, Vanderbilt and Beasley will play key roles in James’s remade supporting cast. Vanderbilt, 23, is a long and versatile defensive-minded forward, while Beasley, a 26-year-old wing, is a pure scorer and a career 38 percent three-point shooter.
The Timberwolves, who have struggled to reach their full offensive potential, will hope that reuniting Gobert with Conley will help the French center find greater consistency and productivity. Conley, 35, is a more natural distributor in pick-and-roll situations than Russell or Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, and he arrives with a reputation as a steady hand with years of postseason experience.
Conley has averaged 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game in Utah, where he has helped oversee a high-energy and high-efficiency attack. The 16-year veteran’s arrival should help create even more scoring opportunities for Edwards, who has emerged as Minnesota’s No. 1 option in his third season.