- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2022

Around the same time that the Washington Wizards were getting blown out during Wednesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota’s Patrick Beverley was relentlessly taunting their former point guard in Russell Westbrook.  

After intercepting Westbrook’s pass, the Timberwolves point guard looked over to the Lakers’ bench and yelled “he’s trash!” twice before plugging his nose for good measure.

Turns out, maybe nobody won the Westbrook trade. 

Except for possibly Spencer Dinwiddie, who a little later that evening sank a game-winning 3-pointer for the Mavericks. 

As Westbrook returns for his first game in the District since the trade last summer, the Wizards and the Lakers have practically the same record: The Wizards are 29-39 while the Lakers are 29-40 ahead of Saturday’s matchup. 

That’s far from what either side envisioned when they made the complicated swap that roped in a total of five teams. Months later, the Wizards have already moved on from key pieces in that haul — trading Dinwiddie, center Montrezl Harrell and guard Aaron Holiday at the trade deadline. Westbrook, meanwhile, is having his worst scoring season since his second year and has been benched multiple times in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook’s situation, in particular, has gotten so extreme that NBA insider Marc Stein reported it’s virtually “impossible” the former MVP remains with the Lakers next season — despite Westbrook being almost certain to pick up his $47 million player option. 

Both sides have moved on. The Lakers technically are still in the league’s play-in tournament, though their actual playoff chances seem slim. 

These days, the Wizards are focused on developing their younger talent with Bradley Beal (wrist) sidelined for the season. That group includes recent first-rounders Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert. 

On that front, there have been some encouraging signs, at least. 

“I’ve seen growth in certain areas with all three of those guys,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr said. “You look at Deni, over the past three or four games, struggled a bit but the fact he could bounce back and play with a level of confidence the way he did against Golden State is promising.” 

Avdija had 13 points Monday in a game the Wizards lost by 14. 

Still, development is what the Wizards arguably should be focused on at this point of the season. Avdija’s offensive development is important for the team — he scored a team-high 19 against Denver — as is Hachimura’s progress: The Japanese native is shooting a career-high 48.6% from 3. 

Focusing on their prospects, though, just isn’t where the Wizards seemed to be headed after making the Westbrook deal. Washington started 10-3 in large part because of the depth that trade provided. “You gotta do that trade 10 out of 10 times,” Kyle Kuzma said amid the hot start. 

Kuzma is perhaps the most promising part of the Wizards’ return for Westbrook. Even as their season has crumbled, Kuzma has averaged 17.1 points per game and appears to be a reliable playmaker. 

It should be noted, too, that the Wizards used part of their Westbrook haul to land Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline. Porzingis, whose versatility on offense landed him the nickname “The Unicorn.” was once seen as a future star. And though he’s coming off an uneven stint with the Mavericks, his upside could be beneficial to Washington in the long run. 

For the Lakers, Westbrook has been an awkward fit all season long. The preseason concerns that Westbrook’s ball-dominant style wouldn’t mesh with LeBron James turned out to be true. Westbrook’s play has appeared to take a significant step back from when he posted a triple-double almost nightly with Washington.

Just last week, the Wizards and the Lakers faced off, so this won’t be the first time that Westbrook will go against his former team. In that outing in Los Angeles, Westbrook scored only five points and tallied nine assists.

This time around, Westbrook will likely face something else when he gets back to the District, something he’s rarely seen all season: A warm reception.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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