So what happened? Should we be surprised by the quick about-face?
And what happens next, specifically for the Lakers, who add a third star to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis but lose valuable depth in doing so?
Per NBA sources, the Lakers went into the offseason with a clear Plan A: unrealistic hopes of landing a Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. Plan B was Chris Paul (but then the Phoenix Suns advanced to the NBA Finals) and Westbrook. Hield was always Plan C.
Over the past few weeks, the Lakers pursued Westbrook and Hield in parallel conversations with the Wizards and Sacramento Kings. As the draft neared, the Wizards seemed content to wait on big decisions with Beal and Westbrook.
That pushed Hield to the forefront. But even as the possibility of a deal built around Kyle Kuzma and Harrell began to form, the Lakers kept the door open to a Westbrook deal.
Westbrook asserted his voice into the conversation, and per an NBA source, the Wizards pivoted. Just like that, the pieces the Kings liked for Hield were no longer available.
With Westbrook, the Lakers will have $120.8 million going to just three players next season in James, Davis and Westbrook. The salary cap projects to be $112.4 million, so the franchise is sure to climb above the $136.6 million tax line.
Because of several factors (the Lakers’ current hard cap, Kuzma’s extension starting Aug. 2), L.A. cannot execute the deal until after the moratorium on Aug. 6. Based on the reported details, the Lakers will have just five players with Gasol and McKinnie.
Look for the Lakers to keep as many free agents as possible, including Caruso, Horton-Tucker, Wes Matthews, Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley and possibly Ben McLemore. Schroder may leave in free agency, but a sign-and-trade would help the Lakers bring back additional talent to flesh out the roster.
The team will have about $5.9 million to spend via the taxpayer mid-level exception. They could try to re-sign Andre Drummond, but that may not be enough to retain the free-agent center. The Lakers don’t have the right to pay him more since they added late in the season on the buyout market.
Expect Caruso and Horton-Tucker to get closer to $10 million a season to stay, while the other potential returnees should be closer to minimum deals.
All told, the Lakers will be looking at a significant luxury-tax bill—a significant investment to try and win now.
Most significant Needs, Possible Vet Additions
If the Lakers keep Caruso and Horton-Tucker, ball-handling should be covered along with Westbrook and James.
The Lakers need to add shooting, which is why they were chasing Hield. That need only grew with the Westbrook deal. Look for the franchise to pursue shooters in free agency like JJ Redick, Wayne Ellington or former Lakers draft pick Svi Mykhailiuk.
If the mid-level doesn’t go to Drummond, they may try and land a player like Otto Porter Jr. (though he may be looking for more than the Lakers can offer), Doug McDermott, Reggie Bullock, Malik Monk, Bryn Forbes or Furkan Korkmaz.
Los Angeles could use defensive help on the wing to replace what’s lost with Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma, and both Porter and Bullock can defend and shoot. Other possibilities could include Trevor Ariza, Josh Hart and Garrett Temple.
If DeMar DeRozan wants to come home to Los Angeles for cheap, the Lakers wouldn’t have much to offer but would probably welcome him despite his poor outside shot. DeRozan may be a longshot, but don’t count out Carmelo Anthony as a bench scorer.
The Lakers also need additional size, which could mean the return of Dwight Howard. Perhaps the Lakers look at Kelly Olynyk, Aron Baynes (if the Toronto Raptors waived his non-guaranteed contract), Daniel Theis, DeMarcus Cousins or JaVale McGee.
If Schroder does end up in Washington via sign-and-trade, perhaps the Lakers can try and pry Davis Bertans.
Does the Talent Trump Spacing Issues?
Hield was a better fit from a traditional point of view as a shooter, but Westbrook will help the Lakers get more wins. He’s just a better all-around player.
The Lakers won the title two seasons ago as a poor shooting team. The Milwaukee Bucks struggled to hit shots throughout the NBA Finals but can boast a championship.
Coach Frank Vogel is more interested in getting his roster to an elite level defensively, which taxes shooters’ legs in a playoff series. Giving James another high-usage playmaker will make defending the Lakers’ All-Star that much harder to handle.
Westbrook is one of the most aggressive scoring point guards in the league. He’s also a triple-double machine. The Lakers should compete at a higher level in the minutes James sits with Westbrook and Davis on the floor together.
The danger is that Westbrook will do too much, ignoring James and Davis in critical moments, but James fared well with Kyrie Irving, who also played like he believed he was the best player on the court.
Westbrook and James have a longer, closer relationship, and the Lakers will be more than fine despite some of Westbrook’s shortcomings.