For the primary time for the reason that sputtering finish to their 2022 season, the Lakers’ principals collected in a room to talk about why their upcoming marketing campaign shall be other. And within the face of query after query about Russell Westbrook’s have compatibility with the present roster, the one factor clear is the Lakers nonetheless don’t have an answer.
Nearly everybody of import used to be requested about Westbrook—within the ultimate yr of a freelance that may pay him $47.1 million this yr—and they all, together with Russ himself, didn’t sound just about as thinking about the previous MVP’s presence as they did a yr in the past. (Even the commonplace photograph op used to be subdued.)
When requested if he may decide to Westbrook being on the group on the finish of the season, basketball operations head Rob Pelinka demurred, providing platitudes about how the entrance place of business would glance into all routes to making improvements to the roster, which isn’t precisely a vote of self assurance for Russ’s long-term future. Pelinka even made positive so as to add that the Lakers can be keen to section with first-round draft alternatives in a possible business to strengthen the rotation—lengthy believed to be the associated fee to transport Westbrook’s contract.
When requested if Westbrook, who has now not come off the bench since his rookie yr, would get started for the group, new head trainer Darvin Ham stated, “We’re ways away. We have several options.” He went on so as to add avid gamers with a defensive mindset shall be given precedence on the subject of enjoying time. (The Lakers had a 113.5 defensive ranking with Russ on the ground ultimate season, in step with Cleaning the Glass.)
LeBron James and Anthony Davis each expressed religion enjoying with Westbrook may nonetheless paintings, regardless that they didn’t precisely dive into specifics. Davis stated Russ must proceed to be himself, which, when bearing in mind Westbrook’s potency to utilization ratio, doesn’t slightly cling as much as scrutiny. James stated Russ may nonetheless achieve success in Los Angeles, regardless that once more now not in point of fact outlining how that will serve as whilst on the ground.
Meanwhile Patrick Beverley, a long-time Westbrook nemesis, claims Russ has been his perfect buddy since he joined the group. This needed to be clarified in particular as a result of how heated the contention has been between the 2 avid gamers for years. It’s additionally imaginable if not really Beverley finally ends up beginning and Westbrook does now not, which has the possible to create an ungainly dynamic for a participant (Russ) who had problems along with his enjoying time at issues ultimate season.
And as for Westbrook himself, he summed up the questions surrounding his spot on the group succinctly: “Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter,” he stated. Later including, somewhat philosophically, “We all have jobs, and some people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us there.”
It feels imply spirited to pile on Westbrook. In a super global, irrespective of his contract, any individual as gifted as him may have the ability to tweak his recreation to raised supplement the celebs on his group. Instead, so long as he’s on the roster, he serves as a continuing reminder for the way precipitously the Lakers have fallen since their championship run in 2020. Westbrook by myself isn’t answerable for Los Angeles’s present catch 22 situation—combating merely to make the playoffs versus being observed as a contender—however he’s the emblem for a head-scratching roster building.
Why there are nonetheless such a lot of avid gamers on this group who can’t slightly shoot and will’t slightly shield stays a thriller. With or with out Westbrook within the rotation, Ham will have his paintings reduce out for him looking to coax championship-level 3-and-D play from the likes of Lonnie Walker IV, Kendrick Nunn, Dennis Schroder, and Austin Reaves. Who on this group is anticipated to protect Kawhi Leonard? Luka Dončić? Devin Booker?
That’s why the Westbrook questions are related. Because buying and selling him for avid gamers who’re higher suits is the Lakers’ most effective actual likelihood at development a identify contender this season. It’s arduous to believe the present-day roster making some more or less miracle run, even with a wholesome James and Davis. (Notably, the Lakers had been outscored with that duo on the ground ultimate season, without or with Westbrook.)
Ultimately, as Pelinka stated himself, the group will have to do the entirety they are able to to compete within the twilight of LeBron’s occupation. While media day is some distance clear of the playoffs, the Lakers nonetheless want to work out how they’re going to make that occur.
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