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Grading Lakers, Jazz, Wolves trade that feels like a home run for LA

Here are our instant grades for the three-team blockbuster that beefs up the Lakers’ playoff chances.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers finally pulled off the trade they have been waiting to make all year. The Lakers joined forces with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves for a three-team trade that sends LA three useful players for the playoff push, the Jazz a valuable future Lakers draft pick, and the Wolves a new point guard and some second round picks.

With the 2023 NBA trade deadline looming on Thursday on 3 p.m. ET, the Lakers, Jazz, and Wolves pulled off the fascinating trade a night before the buzzer. Here’s the full details of what we know so far:

Lakers get: D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley

Jazz get: Russell Westbrook, Lakers’ 2027 first round pick protected 1-4, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones

Wolves get: Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, second round picks

It’s a trade that resets the direction of three teams currently in the Western Conference playoff race. Here’s our instant grades for the deal.

Lakers: A+

This is a season-saving deal for the Lakers. The only question is if they waited too long to make it with the team currently at 25-30 overall and No. 13 in the Western Conference.

The Lakers needed more firepower around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they certainly got it in this deal. D’Angelo Russell — who the Lakers selected at No. 2 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft — gives the Lakers a guard with a dribble-pass-shoot skill set even if there have long been questions about his defense and scoring efficiency. Malik Beasley is simply one of the best volume three-point shooters in the NBA while coming off the bench for most of his career. Vanderbilt is an elite rebounder and plus defense who doesn’t have a reliable jump shot.

It’s remarkable the Lakers were able to upgrade three rotation spots while giving up just one future first round pick five years from now that is still protected inside the top-4. Add in the addition of Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards late last month, and the Lakers have somehow pulled off a remarkable overhaul of the middling supporting cast James and Davis have been working with all year.

Russell has been a polarizing player for most of his career for good reason, but it’s worth noting he’s been pretty solid this year for the Wolves on the brink of his 27th birthday. He adds a catch-and-shoot threat around LeBron — he’s making 39.1 percent of his threes on 7.1 attempts per game — and a dash of playmaking. He’s also a free agent after this year, so the Lakers can use this as a rental or a long-term solution in the backcourt. Beasley is one of the highest volume three-point shooters in the league who should benefit from a force of nature like LeBron attracting defensive attention. Vanderbilt won’t space the floor, but he adds toughness and defense on the interior.

There’s also some value just in getting Westbrook off the team. While he’s still an effective player in spurts, Westbrook never fit well with James and Davis, and is also one of the most stubborn players of this generation. While there’s certainly a chance that 2027 draft pick can be juicy for Utah, LA had to make a move like this to maximize their window around LeBron at age-38. I can’t believe the Lakers actually pulled it off.

Jazz: B

The Jazz were supposed to be in the Victor Wembanyama derby when they traded Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert over the offseason. Utah didn’t just get a haul of future draft picks in those deals, they also got some solid veteran role players as salary fillers. When the season began, it became immediately apparent the Jazz would be better than anyone expected: Utah started 10-3, and has been hanging around .500 ever since.

The Jazz picked a direction with this move. Utah’s relative success this season was always a nice surprise, but it didn’t help the franchise achieve their long-term goals. The Jazz wanted more draft picks and to improve the ones they already own. They accomplished both with this trade even if it cost them three quality players.

The Jazz should drop down the standings now, improving their own draft pick. At the time of this trade, Utah would enter the lottery at No. 13, and you can expect that to improve a bit from here on out. The Jazz also own the Timberwolves’ first round pick this year, and by trading two good players to the Lakers — a team Minnesota is currently competing for a playoff spot with — there’s a greater chance that the Wolves fall out of the playoff picture and hand over a lottery pick to Utah.

Yes, the Jazz should have made the Lakers unprotect the pick given how badly the Lakers needed to pull this off. Yes, it’s possible Utah could have gotten better total draft compensation elsewhere if they traded to trade Conley, Vanderbilt, and Beasley in separate deals. It certainly concerning for the Wolves that the 2027 pick immediately turns into a second if it doesn’t convey:

It’s pretty hard to believe Jazz top executive Danny Ainge didn’t get the Lakers to unprotect the pick. There was no way they were walking away from this deal over pick protection. Either way, that 2027 pick can still be valuable — the Bulls handed Franz Wagner to the Orlando Magic a couple years ago when they traded their own top-4 protected pick — and will be a big piece of Utah’s asset base moving forward. I don’t think this is a terrible deal for Utah because they have a direction and are committing to it, but it could have been better.

By the way, Westbrook will almost certainly never play a game for the Jazz. The Clippers and Bulls are rumored to already be interested after he’s bought out.

Wolves: C+

The Wolves determined they didn’t want to re-sign Russell in the offseason, but they needed to find a solution at point guard. Enter Mike Conley, who gives Minnesota a 35-year-old floor general who can add a steady hand to the offense without disrupting Anthony Edwards’ develop as an offensive initiator.

Conley has had a nice year for Utah even if he’s no longer the same player he was during his prime years for the Memphis Grizzlies. The guard is averaging 10.7 points and 7.7 assists while shooting 36.2 percent on five attempts per game from three-point range. This deal reunites him with Rudy Gobert after the two starred on the Jazz the last few seasons.

The Wolves can also buy out Conley next year, but it’s going to cost them $14 million to do it. This is a decent short-term solution at lead guard, but agreeing to this deal helps out the Lakers — one of their rivals for a Western Conference playoff spot — more than it helps them. There just isn’t much upside in this trade for Minnesota — unless you consider avoiding paying Russell’s next contract as all the upside you need.