The Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz are finalizing a three-team trade that would send Russell Westbrook and a top-four protected 2027 first-round pick to the Jazz, D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley to the Lakers and Mike Conley Jr. to the Timberwolves, CBS Sports' Bill Reiter has confirmed. In addition, the Timberwolves will receive the lesser of Washington and Memphis' second-round picks in 2024 along with 2025 and 2026 second-round picks from the Jazz. Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are also going to Minnesota in the deal.
The Lakers have been trying to trade Westbrook since the offseason, but failed for most of the season to find a suitable deal. There were rumors in the offseason that they were close to dealing Westbrook and two first-round picks to Indiana Pacers for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, but that deal was never completed, and the team's attempts to land Kyrie Irving over the weekend were thwarted when Irving ultimately landed with the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, in Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt, the Lakers have added three young players that they think can not only help them compete this season, but be a part of the team moving forward. The Lakers initially drafted Russell No. 2 overall in 2015, but traded him in 2017 to help create cap space.
Minnesota has watched Anthony Edwards blossom into one of the league's brightest young stars, and as such, it made sense for them to seek a move involving Russell, whose contract expires after the season. If Edwards is going to be their primary ball-handler moving forward, it did not make sense for them to extend Russell's contract, so getting value back for him now is beneficial. In Conley, the Wolves get a point guard who just spent three seasons next to Rudy Gobert with the Jazz, so Minnesota knows that they can play together.
Utah continues to add to its deep war chest of draft assets, and a first-round pick from the Lakers could be among the most valuable selections on the market. LeBron James is 38 and Anthony Davis is among the most injury-prone stars in the NBA, so adding a pick from Los Angeles in 2027 would potentially allow the Jazz to cash in if the Lakers decline in the coming years. As such, they grade out as the obvious winner of the deal.
Utah Jazz: A+
This trade is a slam dunk for Utah. Individually, it isn't clear that Conley, Vanderbilt or Beasley would have netted a first-round pick. But packaged together, they managed to land one of the most valuable first-rounders on the market. In 2027, James will be 42. Davis will be 34. Both of their contracts expire long before then. Go ask Robert Sacre and Tarik Black what these Lakers look like when they don't have a superstar.
Yes, the Lakers are the Lakers. They could easily stumble their way into another one between now and 2027. But it probably won't happen through the draft, as they now only control two of their next five first-round picks. It probably isn't going to happen through free agency either, as superstars simply don't move through free agency all that often anymore. No reigning All-NBA player has changed teams via free agency since 2019, and in the league's current extend now, request trade later environment, that probably isn't changing in the near future. That means it probably has to happen through trade, and the Lakers just gave away one of their best assets.
And even if that pick isn't valuable as we expect it to be... so what? The Timberwolves gave away a group of role players that, at best, were going to be dealt for heavily protected first-rounds or, more likely second-rounders and bad salary. Speaking of salary, the Jazz didn't have to absorb a penny beyond this season to make the trade. As gaudy as Westbrook's $47 million salary looks on paper, it isn't ultimately that harmful because it expires after the season. The Jazz even got rid of the $14 million or so guaranteed to Conley in the process. So essentially, the Jazz gave away three inessential role players during a season in which they probably would've preferred to tank anyway in exchange for a potentially very valuable first-round pick and $14 million in savings. Danny Ainge has done it again.
Los Angeles Lakers: C+
This is a complicated trade to grade because we have to weigh both the individual deal and the greater context under which it was made. In a vacuum, the Lakers probably got more value out of a single first-round pick than they reasonably could have expected. They moved off of Westbrook, a player whose raw value is debatable but whose fit with this particular team simply didn't work, in exchange for three players that each provide traits that the Lakers badly needed.
Russell is a high-level ball-handler that can run the offense for possessions while James rests while also comfortably coexisting alongside him due to his reliable 3-point shooting. Beasley makes 3.1 3-pointers per game by himself, which is roughly 30 percent as many as the Lakers have made thus far this season as a team (10.5 per game). Vanderbilt is among the NBA's most versatile defensive forwards. All three of these players hold value. All three would have been valuable to certain contenders under the right context. At the very least, their acquisitions of Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura should help steer Darvin Ham away from the three-guard lineups that have killed the Lakers all season.
And yet, the Lakers are faced with the uncomfortable reality that they needed 3-and-D players, not 3-or-D players, and the players they acquired are all therefore difficult fits. The combination of Davis and Vanderbilt should thrive defensively. Vanderbilt has attempted only 78 3-pointers in his career. Can the Lakers properly space the floor with both of them on it? Beasley is now the best shooter on the team by far, but in Dennis Schroder and Lonnie Walker, the Lakers already have two all-offense guards that make defending difficult.
And then there's Russell, who, in short, is a valuable defensive player only when he isn't really tasked with guarding anybody. Last season, the Timberwolves were surprisingly effective defensively because they used Russell on the worst opposing perimeter player and allowed him to serve as a back-line communicator. That's a valuable role. The Lakers know this because that's how they use LeBron. Unless James is willing to take on a higher-effort defensive role with Russell easing his ball-handling burden, Russell is going to have to start playing some point-of-attack defense. That's probably his biggest weakness as a player.
Weakness is the key word here. The regular season is about strengths. The Lakers added several unique and valuable strengths in this deal. But the playoffs are about weaknesses. Bad defenders get hunted. Bad shooters get ignored. Take a look back at recent champions. What do the 2019 Raptors, 2020 Lakers and 2022 Warriors have in common? Most of their rotations were filled with role players who both shot and defended. How many such players do the Lakers currently have? Austin Reaves? Patrick Beverley for the past month or so?
That's where the logic behind this trade starts to look sketchier. The goal for any team that employs LeBron James should be to win championships. This trade probably lifts the Lakers up from 13th in the Western Conference into the play-in round. It doesn't exactly position their roster to compete for a championship against the best teams currently in the NBA. That makes it hard not to look back at the Myles Turner and Buddy Hield trade that almost happened over the summer. Turner is an elite defender and shooter, and Hield is a better offensive player than Beasley. That deal likely would have granted the Lakers more championship equity. The same would have been true had the Lakers managed to pry Fred VanVleet and/or Gary Trent Jr. away from the Raptors. Both play both ends of the floor.
Now, there are two important caveats to address here. First, that top-four protection doesn't necessarily preclude a 2027 tank if it's necessary for the Lakers. Second, and perhaps more importantly, According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the 2027 pick the Lakers sent Utah in this deal will not roll over to 2028 if it does not convey. It will instead convert to a 2027 second-round pick. Aside from the obvious benefits of not having to worry about giving up a pick down the line, that matters because it allows the Lakers to still dangle their 2029 first-rounder in trade talks leading up to the deadline. If they can package that pick with Beverley and Walker for a two-way player? They might suddenly look a bit more championship-ready. In that scenario, this deal looks a bit better.
But as it stands right now, this trade looks like a half-measure. It doesn't quite get the Lakers into the championship picture, but it costs them a very valuable asset that might have helped them get back into contention later, either as an offseason trade piece or as a pick during an extended rebuild years down the line. The Lakers might argue that the deal was worthwhile even if it doesn't make them contenders immediately because all three players they acquired are young enough to be long-term Lakers, but all three will need new contracts in the near future. Reaves, Beverley, Walker, Schroder, Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., and Thomas Bryant are all free agents after the season. There aren't enough minutes and dollars to go around here. Not everyone is sticking around for the long haul.
Even if they are, all of those role players are valuable only as support for James and Davis. If James ages out of superstardom? The long-term doesn't matter. If Davis can't stay on the floor? The long-term doesn't matter. That's why jumping into the title picture here and now was so imperative. The opportunity exists in a wide-open Western Conference with James and Davis still performing at peak levels. Who knows how much longer that will be the case. If this is the last move the Lakers make, it's probably only the difference between the lottery and a disappointing playoff exit, and if that's the case, it's fair to wonder if the 2027 pick was worth trading at all.
Minnesota Timberwolves: C-
Letting go of Russell was an entirely credible decision for Minnesota. Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns are both making max money. Edwards will join them when he inevitably inks a max extension this offseason. Defensive ace Jaden McDaniels won't command quite that much, but he's extension-eligible after the season as well and he's not going to be cheap. If the Timberwolves didn't feel that Russell warranted the sort of salary he'd surely demand as, at best, the fourth-best player on this team? Getting value for him now was a sensible move.
The problem is that they really didn't get much value. None of the second-round picks they landed are especially enticing. That effectively makes this a swap of Russell for Conley. On an immediate basis, that's a fair enough swap. Russell is the superior scorer. Conley is the better playmaker. Neither is a strong defender at this point in their careers. Russell is a free agent after the season. Conley is under contract for $24.4 million, but can be waived with around $14.3 million guaranteed.
There are benefits to picking Conley. His three years with Gobert in Utah make the fit relatively smooth, and he uses fewer possessions than Russell, allowing the Wolves to more fully hand the offense to Edwards. That extra year of team control is nice as well. Given his age, Conley obviously isn't Minnesota's long-term point guard, but now the Timberwolves have an extra year to figure out how to handle that salary slot. If Russell was gone anyway, keeping that slot intact without making a major immediate step back was a fine move.
But the Timberwolves still traded a 26-year-old point guard for a 35-year-old point guard that is not significantly better here and now. If they had an obvious way of flipping Conley's contract into a younger core piece down the line, it might make more sense, but they've already traded all of their draft capital to Utah for Gobert. From that perspective, this trade almost feels like it's meant to double down on Gobert's timeline rather than emphasizing Edwards'. We're not going to feel the true weight of that decision for a few years now, but Edwards is only 21 years old and is growing into the team's best player. That won't matter if the entire roster has aged out of its prime by the time he's truly ready to contend for championships. Minnesota just gave away a point guard who could've supported Edwards in his prime for one that can't. As queasy the Timberwolves likely were about extending Russell, that still makes this a questionable move.