Armed with limited draft capital, almost no leverage and an uncertain future, the Lakers didn't exactly have high trade deadline hopes.
Inside the locker room, players privately wondered if there was a move to be made. After their second trade in two-plus weeks, team leaders are happy with the front office’s aggression in swinging a deal Wednesday to dramatically alter their roster.
The Lakers sent guard Russell Westbrook to the Utah Jazz in a three-team trade that net them guard D’Angelo Russell from Minnesota and guard Malik Beasley and forward Jarred Vanderbilt from Utah. The Lakers sent a top-four protected 2027 first-round pick to Utah and a 2024 second-round pick to Minnesota.
The Lakers also sent reserves Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones to the Timberwolves, who get veteran guard Mike Conley Jr. and a pick from the Jazz.
The trade was made official Thursday afternoon. The Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, but none of the new players will be available.
The Lakers are expected to explore more deals that could consolidate their guard-heavy roster ahead of Thursday’s noon PST trade deadline. Among the possible targets is Detroit's Bojan Bogdanovic, though people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly say the asking price for the veteran shooter remains high.
The deal ends Westbrook’s time with the Lakers, an ill-fated homecoming beset by injuries to the other stars and poor on-court chemistry when the team was healthy. Westbrook accepted a role off the bench this season and was productive, averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds, yet his efficiency numbers continued to decline and the team struggled.
Tensions had been building inside the Lakers’ locker room over the last week amid trade rumors and LeBron James’ pursuit of the NBA scoring record, and continued pressure from being on the outside of the playoff hunt.
In Tuesday’s loss to Oklahoma City, Westbrook and assistant coach Phil Handy had an on-court confrontation that grew into a halftime argument with coach Darvin Ham. Westbrook, though, returned to play in the second half and was aggressive in the team’s comeback attempt.
Westbrook, 34, had been the subject of trade talk since the end of his first season in L.A., but the disconnect between him and James, which was highlighted in recent days when James publicly endorsed the team’s attempts to trade for Kyrie Irving, made a move now seem necessary.
If Westbrook has his contract bought out by the Jazz, he could land with teams looking for a dynamic guard like the Clippers or the Chicago Bulls.
The deal represents a reset after the Lakers sacrificed multiple role players in acquiring Westbrook, a former most valuable player, the NBA’s career leader in triple-doubles and one of its top 75 players of all time.
Trading Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (in addition to a first-round pick) for Westbrook in 2021 significantly impacted the Lakers' depth and limited options for future trades.
In acquiring Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt — in addition to forward Rui Hachimura late last month — the Lakers have restocked the middle of their roster with young players, including a former All-Star in Russell.
Russell's abilities as a shooter and playmaker while functioning alongside top offensive options like Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards in Minnesota were a major draw in the Lakers bringing back the guard, whom they drafted No. 2 overall in 2015. There's also optimism about Russell's off-ball defense and ability to play with Davis as a back-line defender.
Russell, 26, is a free agent after the season, and the Lakers have the ability to negotiate a short-term extension, sign him this summer or, perhaps, use him as a trade chip in a sign-and-trade deal.
Among three-point shooters with at least 350 attempts this season, Russell has been the fifth-most effective at 39.1%. Beasley, who attempted 8.6 threes per game for Utah, is 12th at 35.9%. The Lakers will have a $16.5-million option on Beasley's contract for next season.
The team also is gaining a versatile defender and rebounder in Vanderbilt, who will make $4.6 million next season.
The trades signaled the commitment to sacrificing cap space in the summer for a chance to improve now — a necessity as the Lakers (25-30) sit in 13th place in the Western Conference, though they’re just a handful of games away from a top-six seed.
The Lakers also feel the trades provide future flexibility even if it cost them a first-round pick.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.