TheBefore I was even close to what could be considered an NBA expert, I was a relationship expert. I’ve always found human interaction fascinating (and that was even before my therapy years). Likewise, one of the many basketball hills I’m prone to dying on is that it’s business relationships. Chemistry, camaraderie, and general good vibes are not only important to team success; they everything. So, needless to say, living in Los Angeles for the past few years has made for interesting proximity to one of the more interesting case studies of the fractured relationships in the league: the one between Russell Westbrook and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers nowadays are, to put it plain English, a mess. Placing the blame for this squarely on the mercurial Westbrook’s shoulders is very reductive, and certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. For starters, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka just got a contract extension, which is somewhat baffling given his less-than-stellar success rate in the years since the team’s 2020 championship (although some have argued that LeBron James’ opinion of the roster He had a lot of weight in the decision-making, too). Even going back to a time before James signed with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, the industry gushed about his apparent front office incompetence. But Westbrook’s $47 million salary has certainly held back the team and limited any career ability to build around its A-list stars in James and Anthony Davis. To put the $47 million in perspective: It’s about $3 million more than James himself will make this season and, amazingly, more than anyone else on the team outside of James and Davis. sum. Directly or indirectly, Westbrook finds himself at the heart of the matter.
Like many relationships, the Lakers and Westbrook felt Doomed from the start. Sure enough, when Westbrook arrived in Los Angeles, which also happens to be his hometown, for training camp in September of last year, the veteran guard was coming off an impressive season with the Washington Wizards. But the fit issues with the current roster, particularly James and Davis, were already evident. Westbrook has never been known for his shooting accuracy, and is known for playing best in situations where he can be both the ball-dominant scorer and attacking coordinator. Nor was he ever outstanding in defence. After 20 seasons of watching James play in the NBA, one battle-tested formula remained: Surround him with shooters for the floor space, a few hard-hitting and motivated defenders, and he’ll handle the rest. As talented as the one-time NBA MVP Westbrook is, he is, realistically, none of the above. It was a recipe for disaster, and it was a disaster. As early as last Christmas, fans began demanding a trade, and Westbrook’s interactions with those fans and their agents in the media became more and more strained.
The problem, of course, was that by the time it became clear that the pairing would never lead to a winning record, the Lakers had to motivate a team to get Westbrook off their hands, that is, by including only two teams. The remaining tradable first-round draft picks are selected by that contract (in 2027 and 2029, respectively). and they seem to have remained disinclined to do so, especially without an apparent trade which could bring them into contention. Rumors of a possible trade with Houston for then-side guard John Wall swirled around the trade deadline last season, but it never came to fruition. And so one of James’ last viable NBA seasons came and went, without much else Appearance in tournament play. Sure, everyone watching assumed the Lakers wouldn’t gamble a second season in a row on one of basketball’s greatest talents to walk the floor. Trade rumors have turned from whispers that echoed during the season to full-throated rantings of the summer. But the Lakers have stood by Westbrook all season, instead making a few mostly sideline adjustments to their support staff: swapping out Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson for the Jazz for spotty spark Patrick Beverley, swapping out some of the veterans who rolled off the bench last year for talent. Young woman, and replace Frank Vogel with senior coach Darvin Hamm.
The Lakers opened the season at 2-10, the team’s worst 12-game record since the 2015-16 season, when they finished 17-65. Hamm, to his credit, appears to have maintained a stubbornly optimistic outlook after his mostly disastrous first month. After a Clippers loss that featured Hamm’s second-half effort dropping the team to 2-9, Hamm, while looking frustrated, doubled down on his gratitude for the position, responding to a question about how he handled the stress by saying “I’m fine, man. I’m the manager.” The coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m blessed. I get up every morning, and I see the sun in Los Angeles. I have to go to work with a bunch of beautiful people. I’m disappointed, but I never go down.” If he hands a ball of fire to keep, he really seems like the kind of guy who would profess gratitude for not being cold. But, even with his candidly sunny attitude and seemingly unwavering poise, he’s hinted that the roster has its limits, even going so far as to imply Lakers ownership. He has concerns about the luxury tax.
One of Hamm’s early coaching moves that initially showed promise was his decision to remove Westbrook from the bench. The player came away surprisingly accepting of the change at first, and immediately gave the Lakers impressive minutes during the first few games in his new role. After losing their first four games of the season, the team won two in a row with Westbrook manning the second unit, and an air of hope was palpable around the locker room. After a particularly encouraging overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans, Hamm confirmed that the transition to the bench would be permanent, admitting, “One of my goals, selfishly, is to get him into the Sixth Man of the Year conversation at some point.”
But even in the promising moments, it was clear that this move might not be a solution to the team’s problems. Westbrook had been benched for the entirety of the aforementioned extra time, and he didn’t seem to be happy about it When he spoke to the media after the match, even with the choice that results in a score in the win column for the flopping team. Hamm appeared to implicitly acknowledge the ego issue that plagued his former MVP by praising him and then added: “You have to know the team comes first again. The name on the front of the shirt. It sounds old school and tacky, but the name on the The front of the shirt, that’s the most important because it’s a long season.”
As great as 13 games can be, it’s been a really long season for Lakers fans. During the final few seconds of a disappointing loss at home to the Sacramento Kings that sent the team down to 2-10, James buried his head in his hands in panic and a fan behind me exclaimed, “Fucking trade!” Beverley and Westbrook both missed jump shots on back-to-back possessions. Even earlier this season, the Lakers dug themselves a deep hole with some arguing that trading Westbrook is a moot point, and based on the team’s inaction so far, it looks as if the Lakers front office might agree.
It seems that the movement of the bench at least Somewhat Business, after all, and the team only has two precious first-round picks in their arsenal. But not moving Westbrook during this past season is kind of like building a house on an old haunted graveyard and then being surprised when the safes keep opening themselves in the middle of the night. The damage has already been done. Ross clearly feels no affinity or ownership for the team: all indications are that he’s already moved mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The phenomenon of almost pathological disconnection is perhaps best illustrated by Westbrook’s media availability following the loss to the Clippers. Westbrook entered the press room Beyoncé’s grinning and humming break my soul. There didn’t seem to be a connection whatsoever between Westbrook’s temperament and the team’s win-loss record. On the contrary, it seems to depend entirely on how he plays that night, and whether or not he gets the minutes he feels he deserves.
It’s hard to blame Westbrook for feeling indecisive about, and even rebelling against, the franchise and its fans; “Westbreak” cheers They are not forgotten quickly, even if they are nowhere to be found this year. But this is not about trying to figure out who is right or wrong, or pointing fingers. The truth is twofold: This is one of the last meaningful seasons in James’ career, and the relationship between Westbrook and the Lakers is irreparably fractured. Yes, it was better off the bench. But if you decide to end the lease on your apartment and separate from your partner because you fundamentally disagree with the idea of monogamy, does it really matter that much if they start doing the dishes?
Of course, the rest of the Lakers support team is lackluster at best. The moves here are also likely to be a franchise (Beverley’s trade sending him back to Minnesota looks like a potential win for both parties). But giving up on the season by not transferring Westbrook and waiting until his contract expires is a frankly irresponsible oversight of the twilight of James’ career, and it’s Pelinka’s responsibility. confirmed to the press this summer He does not take it seriously. Even then, with next year’s first-round pick belonging to the Pelicans, the Lakers and their fanbase stand to gain nothing from another painful, underperforming season besides a bill boost for the respective handlers. As much as planning for the future is understandably a priority for NBA franchises, putting a product of such poor quality on the floor of the Crypto.com Arena two years in a row is required of even the most loyal of supporters.
It’s hard to say what makes a relationship worthwhile. Any adult can tell you that finances, comfort, and a warm body to sleep next to have played a role in keeping some partnerships going longer than they should. But life is too short, and no relationship is worth being miserable over. And it’s clear that until drastic changes are made to this roster, including but not limited to moving Westbrook, he and the rest of his teammates and the Lakers fanbase will still be pretty miserable indeed.