Introspective Russell Westbrook on struggles with Lakers: Basketball not 'end-all-be-all'

1 year ago 149

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook was expected to be an important piece in their quest for an NBA championship. Those expectations have fallen very short so far. 

Westbrook, who is averaging 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.1 assists on 43.7 percent shooting this season, has totaled just 23 points over his last three games while making just 8-of-40 shot attempts. The Lakers lost two of those three games and have lost eight of their last 13 contests dating back to Dec. 17. 

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While Los Angeles superstar forward LeBron James has excelled this season, averaging 29.1 points with 7.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists, Westbrook’s struggles and injury issues with Lakers forward Anthony Davis have kept the team from achieving its potential, along with injuries and COVID-19 related absences. 

Despite those on-court concerns, Westbrook shared in a recent interview with The Athletic’s Sam Amick that he is still happy being in Los Angeles, given that he is a SoCal native and remains in close proximity to his parents and children. 

“I’m able to be home and be able to embrace them,” Westbrook said. “They get to see me, and as they get older I get to see my kids every day and take them to school every morning. To me, that brings joy.”

Here’s more from Westbrook’s interview. 

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Basketball not ‘end-all-be-all’: 

Though Westbrook may be on the trade market ahead of the deadline on Feb. 10, he said he is not concerned of what fans and media alike think about him. 

“I swear, nobody can imagine it for me because everybody thinks about basketball as the end-all-be-all, but it’s really not, you know?” he said. “Sportswriters-- everybody’s got their own opinion. But I really believe that me being able to do (be in LA) and embrace my kids, it makes them — it puts a smile on my face regardless of what’s happening now.”

Westbrook’s fit in Los Angeles was met with skepticism when he was traded to the Lakers for guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, forwards Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell and the No. 22 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft last July. The Lakers were ranked No. 23 in 3-point percentage last season and needed more floor spacing around James and Davis. Westbrook is a career 30.5% three-point shooter.

This season, the Lakers rank No. 14 in three-point percentage, but Westbrook is shooting just 28.3% from distance. (Note: Westbrook's career-low from three is 22.1% and came in 2009 with the Thunder.)

Westbrook has had to change up his play-style with the Lakers— a ball-dominant origin of play — in efforts of more cutting and short-roll play off of James. 

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It has yet to consistently work for the Lakers, who have followed a five-game losing streak with five wins in six contests and then two losses in their last 13 games. Their up and down, inconsistent play has the Lakers at 21-21 at the midway point of the season, good enough for 7th in the Western Conference.

“We’re all trying to figure it out as a team, as a unit, to be able to say, ‘Ok, how can we figure this out?’” Westbrook said in our chat. “And I know I’m the one who has got to make the biggest sacrifice — and I understand that — so I’ve got to be able to figure out a way to be able to make the best out of it and make the best for this team and that’s it.

Will Westbrook be traded? 

With less than a month remaining until the trade deadline, it is unclear if Westbrook will be moved from Los Angeles. 

Set to make $44.2 million this season and a player option for next season worth over $47 million, finding a suitor to take on that large of a contract for Westbrook's current output will be tough.  

According to Amick, the 76ers reportedly have “zero” interest in a trade for Westbrook and perhaps forward Ben Simmons. Another rumored package has been with the Timberwolves for guard D’Angelo Russell, though there doesn't appear to be much traction with it. 

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For now, however, Westbrook is aware of the possibility and says he is happy in Los Angeles, despite the on-court struggles. 

“Regardless of if (a trade) did happen or if it didn’t happen, nothing’s going to change my mentality or my purpose,” Westbrook told Amick. “I feel like I have a purpose that’s bigger than basketball and I always keep that as my forefront regardless of what happens inside of pro sports.”

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