I still recall how much of a Russell Westbrook fan I was growing up, much like LeBron James he received heaps of criticism through his tenure with former ally Kevin Durant and was always the scapegoat the next morning on ESPN First Take a good 70-80 percent of the time if Oklahoma City ever suffered a loss the previous night. He was breath taking to watch in Oklahoma City and I bought into Sam Presti bringing over Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to help give him enough firepower to take on Durant’s highpowered Golden State Warriors in a potential playoff series but he ended up taking early exits without Kevin Durant several times and I really started to turn on him. The 3-1 collapse to the Golden State Warriors helped show me that Westbrook’s intensity and killer edge meant absolutely nothing when you have to guard the best 3 point shooter in NBA history on the other end in Stephen Curry.
When he was traded to the Houston Rockets everyone thought he would give them the extra jolt Chris Paul failed to provide alongside James Harden the 2019 semifinals versus the Golden State Warriors whom they failed to capitalize on even after Kevin Durant suffered an injury with the series evened up at 2-2. The Rockets modified the personnel of the team to play to Westbrook’s strengths but the Lakers abolished their small ball attack in The Bubble and Westbrook was off to Washington to team up with Beal and give Wizards fans some optimism with a dynamic backcourt of Westbrook/Beal but that was also a failure. Westbrook anchored the Wizards through a second half-surge and reminded the NBA world just how lethal he can be when locked in but his tenure in Washington was short-lived and he decided to join LeBron and AD in Los Angeles.
I was optimistic about Westbrook joining LeBron and AD and really thought he was ready to forgive personal achievements and accolades and focus on winning a championship much like former superstars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett did when they both joined Paul Pierce in Boston. The difference was Garnett and Allen left their egos at the door, I recall remembering them as franchise players and watching them on the Celtics practically taking backseats to Paul Pierce was something I never expected. The 2008 Boston Celtics do not get enough recognition but it’s quite impressive to put three players the caliber of Allen,Pierce,and Garnett together and make it work the very first season together. It felt like smooth sailing all season on their way to a championship, that has not been the case with Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles.
I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt since he was the most available between himself LeBron and Davis suiting up for 78 of the 82 games but in a league where you have teams like the Bucks and Warriors who boast dominant players in Giannis Antetokoumpo and Stephen Curry and who play both ends at an above average level if LeBron wants a 5th championship to go along with the all-time leading scorer feat next season Westbrook has to go. It’s not cause he is horrible as a player, it would just make Darvin Ham’s job infinitely harder. I’m right with Darvin Ham on looking to utilize Westbrook’s size and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball next season, but the real question is will Westbrook be content with having such a diminished role on the team? I just don’t see it, Westbrook is wired to control the action and he is too much like LeBron to make the offense fluid enough to take down a team like Golden State.
Anyone who watched these past NBA Finals between the Celtics and Warriors should’ve learned that basketball is a team game and the Warriors attacked the Celtics lack of a reliable 3rd option. It’s why we heard mid-season the Celtics needed a 3rd piece to go with Tatum which they failed to acquire. No disrespect to Marcus Smart who had a stellar season but he reminded me a lot of Russell Westbrook in the 2022 NBA Finals. Westbrook was unable to contain Curry the 2016 Conference FInals the last 3 games of the series much like Smart who had absolutely no answer for Curry. To beat the Warriors in a 7-game series the Lakers will need to sharpen up their offense and limit turnovers which ended up being the ultimate achilles heel for Boston late in the series against Golden State.
It’s too big of a risk to run it back with Westbrook,LeBron,and AD. Maybe if there wasn’t so much competition they could pull off some magic but in a league where there are 3 basketball prophets in Luka Doncic,Stephen Curry,and Giannis Antetokoumpo competing for championships a soon to be 38-year old LeBron can’t take on this level of a challenge next at this point. If he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s LeBron with Davis alone would be heavy favorites next season but one thing we must accept is LeBron can no longer be a supernova for an entire regular season on both ends of the floor and also turn it up a notch come playoff time. Russell Westbrook proved LeBron can’t fall back and expect him to carry the load in spurts throughout the season, Westbrook even struggled to win regular season games which LeBron missed and couldn’t carry the Lakers even with Davis on the court.
Russell Westbrook is an intense personality, he’ll make you question his sexuality with his unusual wardrobe on social media sometimes but then you remember the man has a wife and kids and plays the role of a husband and father outside of basketball. I’m sure Westbrook has a unconditional passion for the game of basketball, anyone who watches him on the court could never say he is disengaged at any moment while on the court but is Westbrook more worried about showing the NBA world he can still get you 30-10-10 on a nighly basis if given the opportunity or be clapping next spring in the background as LeBron or Davis hoist up the Larry O’Brien trophy? I’ll go with the former, Westbrook has $47 million reasons to not care about his future with the Lakers and whether or not he will help them win.