With reports that the Los Angeles Lakers are close to a deal for Sacramento Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield, and then Washington Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook (but not both), which player would actually be the better choice to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis in L.A.?
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that Lakers center Montrezl Harrell had opted in to his $9.7 million player option, making him trade eligible. Harrell and forward Kyle Kuzma would go to the Kings in exchange for Hield, in a deal that Wojnarowski stated "still needs to be agreed upon," but had "momentum toward its ultimate completion."
Exactly 10 minutes later, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported that the Lakers and Wizards were "engaged on a trade" that would send Westbrook to Los Angeles, stating that it was the veteran guard's preferred destination. Wojnarokwski later reported the deal would include Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a 2021 first-round pick.
Given that both trades include Kuzma and Harrell, the Lakers will have to choose between Hield and Westbrook, two very different players who provide varying skill sets.
While Westbrook is the former MVP and future Hall of Famer, Hield is younger, on a smaller contract and a far better shooter.
So who should the Lakers really want?
Westbrook Brings the Resume…
On paper, Westbrook's and Hield's careers aren't comparable.
Westbrook is one of the greatest athletes the NBA has ever seen regardless of position, is a nine-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA member, two-time scoring champ and 2016-17 MVP winner.
He'll turn 33 in November but is still playing at an extremely high level, coming off a season where he averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, an NBA-best 11.7 assists and 1.4 steals while helping lead the Wizards to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Hield's lone accolade is a spot on the 2016-17 All-Rookie first team, and he's yet to reach the playoffs in his five years with the Kings.
If the Lakers want to continue to preserve James, who's set to turn 37 in December and begin his 19th professional season this fall, Westbrook is the better choice. No active NBA player has a higher career usage percentage (32.5 percent), which can be both a blessing and a curse for Westbrook as he's used to dominating the ball.
To Westbrook's credit, he's meshed well with superstars in the past, be it Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George or Bradley Beal. Durant won an MVP with Westbrook by his side in 2013-14 and even George finished third with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2018-19. Beal finished just short of the league scoring title (31.3 points per game) next to Westbrook this past season.
With James and Davis both suffering significant injuries and missing time in 2020-21, having another star on the roster to carry the team in either's absence could be important.
Davis' groin injury greatly affected the Lakers' first-round loss, leaving far too large of a workload for James. Having a player of Westbrook's stature and playoff experience (111 games over 11 years) could have certainly helped the Lakers advance.
The Lakers would certainly have to add some shooters around a trio of James, Davis and Westbrook, but also wouldn't have to worry about overpaying Dennis Schroder to return as the team's starting point guard.
...But Hield Brings the Spacing
Hield's career doesn't carry the shine of Westbrook's, but his ability as a knock-down shooter and floor-spacer may actually be better moving forward next to James and Davis.
At 28, Hield averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 0.9 steals while knocking down 39.1 percent of his threes. Over his five seasons, Hield has hit 40.6 percent of his threes on an incredible volume.
Hield has finished second in the NBA the past two seasons in three-point makes (271 in 2019-20 and 282 in 2020-21) and is an effective shooter off the dribble or off the catch.
The Lakers desperately need shooting after finishing just 25th in makes per game (11.1) and 21st in accuracy (35.4 percent) this past season, including a 29.9 percent mark from three in their first-round series against the Suns.
He's a big shooting guard at 6'4" and 220 pounds who keeps the driving lanes open for James and Davis to go to work. While Westbrook is the superior individual talent, Hield better complements the Lakers' stars and allows them to play their games.
Choosing between Westbrook and Hield is likely a matter of what the final roster looks like.
Westbrook on the Lakers means targeting players on minimum deals who can shoot and keep at least a small portion of the floor open, or else the offense is going to look extremely clunky at times. Getting Westbrook to buy in, limit his own shots and feed James and Davis will be key.
Hield gives the Lakers more of what they need now, but he can't carry a team for stretches if James or Davis missed time with injury. Resting James from time to time is also extremely important, and having Westbrook allows the Lakers to do this more than Hield would. Trading for Hield over Westbrook also means still needing to find a point guard.
With a deal for Westbrook looking like it will eventually go through (any trade involving Kuzma can't be completed until his contract extension kicks in on Aug. 6 when his contract extension kicks in), the Lakers will have some intense roster adjustments to make.
James has always been good at making pieces fit around him, and giving him a talent like Westbrook is ultimately the right choice as long as the Lakers can fill the rest of the roster out with shooters.