Russell Westbrook to the Nuggets trade rumors show time may be a flat circle

The year is 2021. I am blogging about the Lakers. The team has failed to defend its title and is trading Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma while letting Alex Caruso walk for nothing, and replacing them with Russell Westbrook.

The year is 2024. I am blogging about the NBA. The Denver Nuggets have failed to defend their title, and are letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leave for the Orlando Magic, and may add Russell Westbrook to their backcourt in his stead:

Further proving that NBA time may move in patterns rather than a series of unique events, this would also be the second time in two seasons that a team has salary-dumped Reggie Jackson to the Hornets in order to make room to add Russell Westbrook.

Now, obviously the context of these situations is different. The Lakers didn’t send out Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma for Westbrook because of second apron considerations (they are cheap and will likely never cross the second apron, but it didn’t exist yet). They just made a dumb trade.

The Nuggets are cheaping out on KCP not just for financial reasons or because they think Westbrook is as good or better, but also to avoid the myriad of actual roster penalties that would come from extending him at his market value, as my friend Ryan Blackburn summarized well recently at Mile High Sports:

Unfortunately, writing a blank check, while certainly appealing to Caldwell-Pope, is not in the best interest of the Nuggets competitively. The second tax apron, a new stipulation agreed upon in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, isn’t just a financial burden, but a competitive one. The Nuggets will not be able to make competitive trades if they are over the second apron. They will not be able to use the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception in free agency. Even their first round draft pick in 2032 will be “frozen” if they finish the end of the 2024-25 season over the second apron, meaning they cannot use it in future trades. If they stay above the second apron in three of the next five seasons, that 2032 first round draft pick will be automatically sent to the end of the first round, regardless of Denver’s record.

Still, while the context may be different, it’s still hard not to feel like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen here while watching the Nuggets echo the Lakers’ previous mistake. Replacing the ultimate 3-and-D wing with the ultimate… well, opposite of those two qualities didn’t work out for the Lakers. Maybe Jokic making Westbrook a champion is the final way he can more thoroughly defeat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers… but it’s difficult not to be skeptical that may be beyond even his talents.

So we’ll see if this works out better for Denver than it did the Lakers, but for now, it’s hard not to be tired of Earth. These people. Tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.

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