Which trade was worse: Russell Westbrook or Russell Wilson?

Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Lakers, Seattle Seahawks

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Russell Westbrook and Russell Wilson carry the same first name and initials, and now find themselves as centerpieces to horrible trades.

There are a surprising number of ways one could connect Russell Wilson and Russell Westbrook. The two were both born in November of 1988. Both are nine-time All-Stars in their respective leagues. Both play positions that involve them initiating offense.

And now, both are looking like disgraced shells of what they once were as the outcomes of poorly thought-out trades.

Westbrook was acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2021-22 season and promptly put up his worst scoring year since 2010, his fifth-worst true shooting percentage season, and his worst BPM (box plus-minus) and VORP (value over replacement) season of his career.

He was supposed to be one of the key pieces to a Lakers title run, but he was such a wrench in the machine that they failed to qualify for the postseason entirely. While the entire team’s downfall can’t be entirely attributed to Russ, he was a primary culprit.

His inability to shoot from distance (29.8% from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempted threes per game) hurt the Lakers’ spacing and clogged up the offense, making it difficult for LeBron James to charge the rim. He led the team in turnover percentage of players who played over 500 minutes last season.

On the football side, Wilson is still very early on in his career with a new uniform. Traded to the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks this offseason, there is absolutely still time for him to turn things around, but so far, things are not looking good.

After just three home games, Broncos fans have seen enough to feel comfortable leaving the stadium at the start of overtime. Wilson has thrown for less than a touchdown per game, has only passed 250 yards in two of five games, and is on pace for a quarterback rating of under 85, which, if it holds up, would be the worst season in Wilson’s career.

His 7.1 adjusted yards per attempt are the worst of his career so far, and if his touchdown pace holds up, he’s positioned for just 14 TD passes which would be six fewer than his current career low.

Sheesh. Not a good look for the Lakers or the Broncos.

But who did it worse? To answer that question, we need to look at what each team gave up.

What the Lakers gave up to get Russell Westbrook

  • 3 draft picks: 1 first-round pick, 2 second-round picks
  • Kyle Kuzma
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Montrezl Harrell

We must remember that the Lakers more or less gave up on the opportunity to get Buddy Hield to land Westbrook instead.

Westbrook’s contract, at the time, was $91.3 million for 2 more years, an AAV of $45.6 million.

What the Broncos gave up to get Russell Wilson

  • 5 draft picks: 2 first-rounders, 2 second-rounders
  • TE Noah Fant
  • QB Drew Lock
  • DE Shelby Harris

Following the trade and before the season began, for which the Broncos gave up all of the above, the Broncos gave Wilson a five-year, $245 million contract extension with over $150 million in guaranteed dollars. The deal, at the time, was the third-highest in terms of guaranteed dollars in the NFL.

The AAV for Wilson is $48.5 million.

Leveling the playing field between the trades

For comparison, let’s keep in mind that the rosters are bigger and the drafts are longer for the NFL compared to the NBA, meaning each pick and player traded means a lot more (all else equal, of course) in the NBA than the NFL.

There are 7 rounds in the NFL Draft, and only 2 in the NBA Draft. Therefore, we can multiply by 3.5 to equate an NBA pick (all else equal) to an NFL pick.

At an incredibly rudimentary level, that means the Lakers gave up more draft capital (“7 picks” adjusted to NFL proportion compared to 5 for the Broncos) than the Broncos.

They also gave up more in terms of players. Three traded players equates to 5.7% of a 53-man roster. The Lakers traded 3 players which equates to 20% of a total roster.

Which trade was worse? Russell Westbrook to the Lakers or Russell Wilson to the Broncos?

Comparing trades across sports is challenging and arguably unfair since there are different rules for managing rosters and completing trades in different leagues. Regardless, we’re gonna do it.

On paper, the Lakers trading for Westbrook looks worse. They moved a more significant amount of roster and draft capital for a player who more or less slammed the brakes on LA being competitive as the door on LeBron’s prime is closing.

That said, though it wasn’t a part of the trade itself, you simply can’t look past the Broncos’ decision to extend Wilson with such a mammoth of a contract. No, they didn’t trade for that contract, but in trading for Wilson they did trade for the right to extend Wilson, which they did… Before they even saw him play one snap in a Broncos uniform. Why?

Both teams made extremely ill-advised decisions, but the Broncos’ choice was worse. Not to mention the fact that the Lakers can still potentially get Westbrook’s contracts off their books in a trade this year and rectify the mistake, at least a little bit.

The quarterback position influences wins and losses more than any other in sports. Yes, it’s a hot take following a disastrous performance on Thursday night against the Colts, but the Broncos hitched their cart to a quarterback likely past their prime and paid him like he was Patrick Mahomes. Never mind the fact that they gave up five draft picks to do so.

In the end, though? Both trades stink. Bad.

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