It used to be that teams in the NBA had to have at least one star to win a title. Then, it was at least two. The Milwaukee Bucks proved this past season that the bar is now set at three All-Stars to be crowned champions. The Los Angeles Lakers have joined that exclusive club following the trade with Washington for Triple-Double King and former league MVP Russell Westbrook to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis, yet William Hill Sportsbook oddsmakers and the SportsLine Projection Model aren't all that impressed.
First off, let's guarantee two things right now. First, Opening Night for the 2021-22 season is Oct. 19. We know the Bucks will host the first game of the doubleheader because they are defending champions. I can promise you the Lakers will be hosting the nightcap with this star-studded trio. If I had to guess the opponent? Phoenix. The Lakers might have hosted that anyways, but now it's a lock. Also a lock: The Lakers will again be featured in the marquee game on Christmas.
Westbrook is be the first NBA MVP to be traded in three straight offseasons – technically, the deal won't be official until early next month – and gives the Lakers two of the top five players in career triple-doubles: Westbrook has 184, James 99. Los Angeles gave up Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the No. 22 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft. The Wizards ended up trading that pick to Indiana.
LeBron, Westbrook and Davis have combined for 30 All-NBA selections. They will be the second trio in NBA history to enter a season with 30 All-NBA selections, joining Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton for the 2003-04 Lakers. That team lost in the NBA Finals. Westbrook will be the fifth former league MVP to play for four different franchises in a span of four seasons or fewer joining Bob McAdoo, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose.
Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who pushed for this deal, is obviously a fabulous player who averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in the past five seasons in 2020-21, putting up 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds in helping the Wizards reach the playoffs.
However, he's a bit of a ball-hog, is best in transition and can't shoot three-pointers to save his life (31.5 percent last year). There's only one ball to go around for Westbrook, James and Davis, and two issues for the Lakers last season in being bounced in the first round of the playoffs were that they couldn't get easy baskets on the fast-break – LeBron and Davis aren't exactly spry these days -- and were a terrible three-point shooting team.
In this deal, the Lakers gave up their two leaders in made three-pointers in Kuzma (137) and Caldwell-Pope (120). Last season, the Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 24th in three-point attempts per game. Westbrook will not help there.
The Lakers reportedly were close to getting Hield for essentially the same package, and while Hield isn't the all-around player that Westbrook is, he's a vastly superior perimeter shooter. Since Hield entered the league in 2016-17, only he, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Duncan Robinson have averaged higher than 40 percent from three-point range on more than seven attempts per game. Hield would have helped space the floor in the halfcourt for LeBron and Davis. Westbrook won't because teams don't respect his jumper.
A few sportsbooks out there did shorten the Lakers' odds to win the 2022 NBA title and Western Conference a bit, but William Hill did not. L.A. is a +400 second favorite to win the title behind Brooklyn (+225), which has a better, younger trio, and +180 favorite to win the West.
The SportsLine Projection Model had the Lakers winning 53.2 games next season (back to 82) with a 22.3 percent chance of winning the West and 11.9 percent for a championship before any trade. That wins total went to 55.3 with Hield, 28.9 percent to win the West and 18.0 percent for the NBA title. With Westbrook, the wins drop to 52.7, the West chances from 22.3 to 21.7 and the NBA title percentage from 11.9 to 9.8.
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