Last offseason, the blockbuster of the summer in the NBA came in the form of the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards making a trade. The Lakers sent Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the No. 22 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft to Washington for Russell Westbrook and two second round picks in 2024 and 2028.
It was the type of move that many believed could help the Lakers on their quest to gain another title and help Washington build back towards a contending team. Yet, the opposite was true as the Westbrook to Los Angeles move was a complete disaster as the Lakers missed the playoffs entirely. As for Washington, they missed the postseason as well but do now have an extra building block on their roster in Kuzma. Harrell was dealt away at the trade deadline and the future of Caldwell-Pope in Washington remains a mystery. TWSN NBA Analysts Matt Levine and Will Locklin evaluate the trade a year later and see how the future of each team looks:
There have been many moving parts on the Wizards roster since the Russell Westbrook trade took place 327 days ago. Some of them involve pieces that the Wizards received from the Lakers in that trade. Initially, the Wizards got back Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd pick in the 2021 draft. That very same night was the NBA Draft and while some teams added franchise cornerstone pieces, the Wizards made another move. They traded the 22nd pick to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for the 31st pick in the draft and Aaron Holiday. With that pick, the Wizards made Isiah Todd the latest Washington Wizard. The then 19-year-old had spent the last year on G-League Ignite next to Jalen Green and Johnathan Kuminga.
By the NBA season start, the Wizards now had five players for Russell Westbrook. Holiday would be a bench guard for the team while Todd shifted down to the G-League affiliate Capital City Go-Go team. When the trade deadline came around, the Wizards traded even more of these pieces they originally received in the Westbrook Lakers deal. Holiday was dealt to the Suns in return for cash considerations which opened up a bit of cap space for the organization. Big man Montrezl Harrell was also traded at the deadline. The Hornets gave them a former Wizard Ish Smith and younger big man Vernon Carey Jr back for Harrell. Even though Harrell averaged 14 ppg on 64.5% shooting in his 46 games in DC, it was a good move to trade him away. In light of Harrell’s recent felony charges levied against him, it was best the Wizards didn’t find themselves in that headache of a situation.
After three more trades after the initial Westbrook from Washington to LA deal, the Wizards now have Kuzma, KCP, Smith, Carey, Todd, and a bit of cash. To answer the “worth it” question it’s best to look at the long-term value and past year production of the return. Kyle Kuzma was one of the Wizard’s biggest bright spots of the disappointing 2021-22 season. He went from 13 ppg in his final Lakers season to 17 ppg on the Wizards. They gave him an expanded role and Kuzma took full advantage. While his efficiency stats remained stagnant at 54.5% true shooting, Kuzma’s entire game was expanded. He averaged 8.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, and played better defense in the 66 games as a Wizard last season. Given this production and his age at 26, it’s clear Kyle Kuzma will be a valuable piece to the Wizard’s future as a starter or sixth man off the bench.
Caldwell-Pope had his ups and downs last year but ultimately was a positive influence on the Wizard’s season. He averaged 13 ppg, shot 39% from three-point range, and played good on-ball defense. In laden terms, he played his strictly 3&D wing role well. However, KCP’s role might be better served on the trading block next season for two reasons. One, his skillset could be better utilized on a contending team which means Washington can get draft capital or a younger player in return. Two, Caldwell-Pope is entering the final year of his contract so it’s just good business to deal away a player with his value and situation.
The veteran Ish Smith truly belongs with the Wizards. He magically upped his scoring from 4.5 ppg to 8.6 and his efficiency from 39% from the field to 46%. Call it a good locker room fit or whatever but it’s clear that there’s chemistry between Smith and the Wizards culture. He fits in DC as a leader and backup spark plug bench guard. Carey and Todd haven’t had much impact in their time but there’s a reason they’re the young pieces for the future in this trade. Carey only played three games for the team last season but will serve as a potential rotational big man for the future. Todd averaged 14 ppg and 6 rpg on 45/42/75 shooting splits in the G-League.
All in all, the Russell Westbrook trade has been a big-time win for the Wizards so far. They haven’t received any franchise-altering talent but are stocked with more young talent and quality role players to exchange in future deals. This trade gave them more flexibility both in their salary cap as they relieved one of the worst contracts in the league and on the roster at large. Now the team can breathe easier and plan for the future with more options.