- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Washington Wizards have been reluctant to trade star Bradley Beal. The same apparently can’t be said about Russell Westbrook. 

Multiple reports indicated Thursday that the Wizards have sent Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for forward Kyle Kuzma, center Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the 22nd pick in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft.

The deal puts Westbrook back in his hometown just one season after the Wizards acquired him for point guard John Wall. The Wizards finished below .500 (34-38), but Westbrook was praised for his leadership during his short tenure. He averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game last season — breaking Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-double record in the process. 

“I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!” Westbrook tweeted late Thursday night.

For the Wizards, the move will create some financial flexibility to build around Beal as Westbrook was set to make $44.2 million next season and held a $47.1 million player option for 2022-23. Kuzma is under contract until at least 2023, but only makes $13 million per season — while Harrell’s $9.7 million contract expires next season. Caldwell-Pope can be waived after 2021-22 for a $4.9 million cap hit. 

Perhaps more importantly, all three contracts are tradable — giving Washington the ability to reshuffle the roster more in the near future. 

Reports of the trade emerged just hours before Thursday’s NBA draft. 

The Wizards held the 15th and took Gonzaga 6-foot-7 sharpshooter Corey Kispert. The Lakers drafted at the 22nd pick for the Wizards and took Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson. The Wizards later shipped Jackson to the Indiana Pacers for the 31st overall pick and guard Aaron Holiday.

Bleacher Report reported that the deal cannot officially go through until Aug. 6 due to salary cap purposes. ESPN first reported the news overall.

The news comes as the Wizards deal with rumors that Beal is “seriously mulling” his future with the franchise. Beal, the third overall pick in 2012, can be a free agent as soon as next season and teams have long coveted the guard’s scoring ability. Beal was reportedly upset over the Wizards’ coaching search process, unhappy that Philadelphia assistant Sam Cassell did not get a second interview. The Wizards hired Wes Unseld Jr. instead. 

General manager Tommy Sheppard tried to quash those rumors in a pre-draft press conference Wednesday — calling the chatter “outside noise.” He said Beal had not requested a trade. 

The Lakers, meanwhile, will be Westbrook’s fourth team in as many seasons. Arguably the most polarizing player in the NBA, the 32-year-old former MVP will join LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the Lakers look to win another title after a disappointing first-round exit this past spring.  

To some, Westbrook is seen as a stat-hunting, inefficient player whose aggressive style of basketball does not translate to winning in the playoffs. But the nine-time All-Star is beloved by others — including former teammates — who praise Westbrook’s leadership and all-out mentality. 

Westbrook has said he doesn’t care what critics think, telling reporters during the season he’s a champion even if he doesn’t actually win a title. Though Westbrook appeared in only 65 games for Washington, his tenure produced memorable, even historic, moments. His play over the last half of the season helped the Wizards get into the playoffs as the eighth seed as Westbrook racked up triple-doubles in the process. 

On May 10, Westbrook surpassed Robertson in all-time career triple-doubles with 162.  His record now stands at 184. 

After the season, Westbrook said he was looking forward to settling in the District.

“I just wanted to come to a place and change the culture, bring my energy, my leadership and make the guys around here better,” Westbrook said last month. “And I feel like I was able to accomplish that in making guys better, better players, better people, better basketball players. And then I can live with that. The result is always to fight as long as you can and that’s what we did. And I can live with the results of guys leaving it on the floor every single night. I’m OK with that.”

Now, he’ll have to get used to a new team all over again.

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