Russell Westbrook’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers has been nothing short of a nightmare for the storied NBA franchise. He didn’t fit in last year, and despite changes to the roster and coaching staff over the summer, he’s also struggled to fit in with this year’s squad.
After the blockbuster trade to acquire Westbrook turned out to be a disaster for the Lakers last year, the team seemed determined to trade him before the 2022-23 campaign. That didn’t happen, and there’s a good chance the former NBA MVP plays out the rest of his enormous contract ($47 million) in Purple and Gold because no other team wants to take him on unless more compensation is sent their way, namely first-round draft picks.
Although the Lakers front office has been reluctant to part ways with first-round draft picks in 2027 and 2029 in a Westbrook deal, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a deal does come to fruition before the NBA trade deadline in February. One of the main reasons for that new-found optimism is that the veteran guard is starting to flourish in his new role off the bench.
The last time Russell Westbrook came off the bench was his rookie season. Also vs the Timberwolves.
5,082 days ago. pic.twitter.com/ksycDYqBu0
— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 28, 2022
Yes, Westbrook claimed that coming off the bench attributed to his recent hamstring issues (if you believe that). Yes, head coach Darvin Ham more or less called out the point guard for not sacrificing for the team. But now the controversial guard has seemingly embraced the role, and it’s beginning to pay off for him and the team, which is something no one saw coming.
Coming off the bench made perfect sense for Westbrook. The one thing we’ve learned about the 33-year-old is that he is stubborn and finds it incredibly difficult to adapt to his surroundings if, and I stress IF, he’s not the No. 1 option on the floor.
Somehow, someway Ham has gotten Westbrook to buy into a role in the second unit. That seemed impossible a year ago with Frank Vogel calling the shots, but Ham has been able to pull it off, and who knows what exactly led to this all coming together the way it did.
Regardless of who convinced Westbrook to get over it and drink the Kool-Aid, the fact of the matter is it is working. He has embraced the role for the time being and may be starting to win over the Lakers faithful.
First win of the season | Off the bench Russ >> 🎉🎉 #nba #basketball #losangeleslakers #russellwestbrook #win #lakeshow #denvernuggets #hoop #hoops #bball #ballislife #viral #fypシ #xyzbca
On Sunday night, the Lakers were finally able to get a win by taking down Nikola Jokic and the visiting Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena. The Nuggets could be a title contender this year once Jamal Murray gets up to speed and if Michael Porter Jr. can stay healthy, meaning this struggling Los Angeles was able to beat a formidable foe.
Whether that momentum will continue moving forward is anyone’s guess. However, Westbrook played a significant role in the win over the Nuggets, as he showed flashes of his old form with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while shooting 50 percent (6-for-12) from the floor and beyond the arc (2-for-4).
This is a great sign for the Lakers for two reasons.
No.1: It increases Westbrook’s trade value
If he can continue to show that he can produce off the bench and accept that role like Carmelo Anthony famously did when his career started to take a turn, teams around the league might be more open to making a deal with Los Angeles.
Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers made things a bit more interesting on Monday after making some interesting comments to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“If I’m the Lakers, I take a very hard look at this with the position that you’re in,” Turner said. “I know what I can provide for a team. My leadership, my shot-blocking, my three-point ability and just my ability to make plays out there on the floor. And I take a very long look at it. But as far as pulling the trigger, you know… I get paid to shoot, not making these calls, so I couldn’t answer that.”
These comments could strike a chord with general manager Rob Pelinka and lead to re-engaging in trade talks with the Pacers. But, of course, it also could mean absolutely nothing other than Turner wanting out and being willing to suit up for the Lakers at some point down the road. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
No. 2: He could prove to be a crucial piece to the playoff puzzle for the Lakers
Again, this all hinges on consistency from Westbrook in his new bench role. Suppose he remains consistent and content in the second unit. In that case, he could become a force to be reckoned with and, as a result, a valuable player for a Lakers squad that desperately needs help outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
In two games off the bench, Westbrook is averaging 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 37.5 percent from deep. Consistent production in the second unit would be a massive boost for the Lakers.
Some things still aren’t great. He’s shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 64.3 percent from the charity stripe, which obviously isn’t ideal, but an improvement. Unfortunately, he’s also averaging 4.0 turnovers per game, which is cringeworthy for a point guard.
Despite the poor field-goal percentage and turnovers, Westbrook is improving, and that is all the Lakers can ask for at this point. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for Los Angeles if the future Hall of Fame can continue to make it work in his new role.