Most Wizards fans vividly recall the moment they heard about the Russell Westbrook trade. Not the one with the Los Angeles Lakers just over a month ago — but the deal that brought him to Washington in the first place.
I was in disbelief. Beyond losing long-standing face of the franchise John Wall, a huge reason for my incredulity was that, in many ways, Russ felt like a caricature of the best and worst traits we’ve seen from Wall over his decade in D.C.
Wall is crazy athletic, but Russell Westbrook is a generational freak of nature. Wall never became a knockdown shooter, but Westbrook was worse while taking even more jumpers. Wall was an orchestrating point guard that needed the ball in his hands to thrive, while Westbrook is the poster boy for "ball dominant." Both felt like good defenders on paper, but were a lot more flash than effective.
As a lifelong Wizards fan, what made the deal harder to stomach was the prospect of investing into a player like Westbrook, who in reminded me of Wall without actually being him. But let’s be real: before the trade, the Wizards were going absolutely nowhere running it back with Wall and Bradley Beal.
Many fans, myself included, were willing to ride with Wall until the wheels fell off simply because of what he’s meant to the franchises. Westbrook brought an extreme version of Wall, but with none of the sentimentality and fanbase cache that made it make sense.
This is not a knock on Westbrook. The man looked much better than Wall did last season. He played full throttle for a mediocre team and salvaged his trade value well enough for the Wizards to net a solid trade package in return.
Of course we cheered Brodie on when he was playing at an All-NBA level towards the latter half of the regular season. His effort and intensity make him instantly endearing to any fanbase. But at 32 years old, he wasn’t getting any better, and neither were the Wizards.
That’s why my instant reaction to the second Westbrook trade in less than a year was that of relief.
The Wizards were no longer locked into two more seasons of Westbrook, which is also the amount of time left on Beal’s contract. The status quo felt like a ticking time bomb rather than an opportunity to convince Beal to stay. After all, Westbrook had no plans of staying either.
After the trade, it feels like the team has new life. We’ve surrounded Beal with players who fit his timeline and have more to prove, rather than an over-the-hill former MVP chasing a title.
Kyle Kuzma is only 26 and despite being constantly ridiculed in LA, has shown flashes as a potent scorer itching for an opportunity to showcase just that. Spencer Dinwiddie is 28, the same age as Beal, and is two years removed from his borderline All-Star season. He has every incentive to form an Eastern Conference powerhouse after getting booted from the one he helped create in Brooklyn.
Was I the only one surprised to see that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell are both still years away from even reaching 30? The two bring veteran experience on playoff teams, but are also dab smack in the middle of their primes.
The Wizards also have a handful of young talent on rookie deals. Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert, Daniel Gafford, and Isaiah Todd bring the right mix of youth on a roster that’s ready to compete. They also serve as assets in case the team has the opportunity to trade for another star.
For the first time in a long time, we won’t know what to truly expect from this Wizards team until the season opener. Things could go horribly wrong or we could be headed for one of our most memorable years in recent memory and I’m 100% here for it.
There may no longer be the certainty of a Westbrook triple-double every night. But in many ways, that’s a trade-off most Wizards fans should be willing to live with.