Heading into the trade deadline last week, the Lakers prepared to retool their roster in a way reminiscent of their 2021 trade for Russell Westbrook. Ironically, to make their trade happen, it would be that very person whose jersey went out the door.
After missing playoffs in 2021 with a disappointing sub-.500 season in which the Lakers barely made it over 30 wins, the team had hoped to come into the 2022 season healthy, with a fresh new gameplan installed by the recently hired Darvin Ham. Expectations quickly dwindled though, as the Lakers began the season with a shaky 2-10 record.
While the team managed to bounce back and go on an 8-10 run, trouble continued to come their way. Plagued by injuries and a seeming failure of the team to gel together, the season began to seem eerily familiar to their 2021 journey. The team finished with a season record of 25-31 heading into Feb. 9’s trade deadline.
To turn the season around, the Lakers once again made a significant roster move— their superstar point guard Russell Westbrook was dealt to the Utah Jazz.
“Westbrook is an amazing person off the court. On the court though, I could not stand watching him play,” said long-time fan Joshua Ausland, a fourth-year psychology major at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Ausland had seen enough, and so had the Laker’s front office.
The night of the deadline, Westbrook was traded to the Utah Jazz alongside a first-and second-round pick in return for three players: the former Laker D’Angelo Russell, Malike Beasly (provided by the Timberwolves for a Jazz second-round pick) and Jarred Vanderbilt.
“I think it was pretty obvious that something needed to change,” said Tyler Vannix, a second-year criminal justice major at PLNU. “I thought Westbrook was playing pretty well coming off the bench, but the way that the team was going into the deadline a move was necessary.”
Of the players the Lakers moved for, Jarred Vanderbilt seemed to be a surprise fan favorite. Ausland could sense his presence immediately in Vaderbilt’s Lakers debut.
“I think the best player we got out of that has to be Vanderbilt. I think his defense is just out of this world. He brings an energy we were missing,” Ausland said.
He was not the only one who noticed the difference.
“Vanderbilt has been an unbelievable acquisition as far as defense and size go,” said longtime Laker fan Nick Ma, a fourth-year social work major at PLNU.
He has been impressed by the new Laker’s immediate impact but sees the Laker’s deadline moving differently.
“Honestly, I view the deadline moves as more addition by subtraction. The biggest thing that gave me joy for the trade deadline was losing Russell Westbrook,” Ma said.
The trade of Westbrook was not the only move the Lakers made though. The team moved Patrick Beverly and a second-round pick for center Mo Bamba, as well as traded Kendrick Nunn and Rui Hachimura a week prior to the deadline.
The Lakers were not the only team to make a move. The Phoenix Suns traded Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and four first-round picks for Kevin Durant in what is considered to be one of the most impactful trades in the National Basketball Association’s history.
The significance of Phoenix’s trade was not lost on Ausland.
“Realistically, it is extremely hard for me not to pick the Phoenix Suns [to win the West] after their trade for KD. After KD comes back and is healthy, I genuinely don’t know who is beating that team in 7 games.”
With just a few weeks left before playoffs after the All-Star break, many teams hope to clinch a postseason spot. The Lakers are no exception, sitting at the 13th seed, only one game back from the play-in tournament. With questions surrounding the future of the Lakers’ roster, only time will tell if the moves made at the deadline will benefit the franchise’s future.
Written By: Joshua Scott