Russell Westbrook had hinted at the dysfunction at numerous factors earlier in the season, however there was no holding again this time.
There was no uncertainty in his phrasing, no have to learn into his feedback to be able to extrapolate any hidden that means this time. No, as Westbrook sat in entrance of assembled media for the remaining time of the 2021-22 season for his exit interview, he left little doubt about, properly… a lot of something (past him choosing up his $47 million participant possibility, which , truthfully, all of us knew it might occur too).
Among the speaking factors in a Q&A that laid naked the unhappy state of affairs between him and his hometown Lakers, Russ laid blame in nearly each path however his personal. Among a host of causes for his season-long struggles, he cited his rocky day-one relationship with Frank Vogel, “having to show myself and my capabilities and what I’ve been capable of do for this recreation,” and, most shockingly , implied LeBron James and Anthony Davis weren’t being truthful once they stated they wished to “Let Russ be Russ,” a widespread chorus of theirs from early on in the season.
The normal consensus after Westbrook wrapped up was that he not only lacked accountability for his personal function in his (and his staff’s) underwhelming efficiency that season, however that there was actually no approach to spin something this positively. Russ, it appeared, had gone scorched earth on the Lakers. The only query was, what would their response be?
Fast ahead a number of months and the Lakers’ response has been two-fold. First, they’ve unabashedly tried to trade him. Whether it has been their very loud pursuit of Kyrie Irving to the current experiences of rekindled discussions with the Pacers for a deal centered round Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, Westbrook has been offered to opposing groups as the wage ballast to seek out higher becoming gamers who may help the Lakers resuscitate their championship hopes.
Beyond these experiences that spotlight particular gamers, the Athletic’s Shams Charania experiences that there have been extra normal discussions with the Jazz and the Knicks round these groups absorbing Westbrook’s wage in alternate for undisclosed “draft capital.” Presumably, the Lakers would then recoup gamers who would theoretically assist them extra on the courtroom than Russ can this upcoming season, from both of these groups or a third one.
In distinction with these experiences of the Lakers on the prowl to purge Westbrook from their roster, the staff has publicly endorsed a return of their mercurial level guard through the declarations of newly-hired head coach Darvin Ham.
Ham, beginning along with his opening press convention and persevering with all through his media tour in the weeks which have adopted, has professed a imaginative and prescient for Westbrook that includes him not only returning, however retaining his place as start line guard. Ham, in what I consider is an sincere presentation of what he’d wish to see, has Russ coming again, and in the course of, adapting his recreation to play a type that’s extra consistent with what a third possibility on a staff ought to be doing
Ham would not need to neutralize Russ’ instincts as a playmaker or shot creator, however he does need a wholesome dose of protection and offensive sacrifice blended into his method. Ham has overtly envisioned a Westbrook that not only runs the offense and assaults with the ball in his arms to be able to create good photographs for himself or teammates, but additionally somebody who competes at a excessive stage defensively by pressuring the ball, is a prepared lane- filler in transition and off-ball cutter in the half courtroom, units ball screens, performs in the dunker’s spot as a launch valve throughout actions that do not contain him, and can spot up in the nook when wanted.
Ham, absolutely conscious of the disparity between his ask and what we have all seen of Westbrook over a lot of the final half dozen years, is teaching Russ earlier than they’ve ever been on the courtroom collectively. He’s being forthright, sincere, and laying the groundwork early for what he expects from Russ and the way he’ll have to play if he will be a productive member of the staff subsequent season. This is precisely what you’d need out of your head coach who’s strolling into a tough state of affairs that he had no half in making tough. So I applaud Ham’s efforts right here.
Here’s the factor, although. If Ham is definitely teaching Russell Westbrook subsequent season, the Lakers would have completed him a disservice. That’s not as a result of Ham cannot get by to Russ or as a result of Russ can now not be a productive NBA participant. It’s not even as a result of we all know for sure issues will not work (sure, we’ve proof it will not, however I’m nonetheless hesitant to talk in certainties). This is not an indictment of Ham or, once more, a proclamation that Russ can not assist a staff subsequent 12 months.
No, we’re at the level the place the Lakers should trade Russ as a result of they’ve gone too far in actively attempting to trade him to convey him again to this staff. Shopping him the means they’ve removes any doubt they really need him again now. Don’t mistake this as stating Ham is being disingenuous in his reward or spelling out of a function for Russ. I consider Ham is each honest and real in his assist of Russ. But, organizationally, from the management in the entrance workplace, it is clear the place they stand.
And, when that’s the case, issues are actually too far gone. There’s no going to the participant and making it appear as if they weren’t doing what they had been doing. There’s no promoting it as “exploring (our) choices” or another coded language for actively trying to improve him. The entrance workplace’s intentions are clear. They need to substitute him and it is not only for a star like Kyrie, however, if experiences are true, for function gamers like Hield and Turner.
I do not see a means, then, that that is salvageable. There’s not sufficient shared historical past between Russ and anybody in the franchise for hatchets to be buried and for everybody to come back again and embrace one another underneath the guise of familiarity and previous connections. There’s no “final dance” for this group who has gone by battles collectively to type one remaining bond towards a shared enemy to be able to accomplish one thing nice. There’s merely not sufficient togetherness on this group to do something apart from observe by what’s already been began, and make a deal that presents itself, ultimately.
Now, I do perceive the argument that the Lakers do not essentially should trade Russ. That they may simply ship him house and attempt to go the route of addition by subtraction whereas additionally avoiding making the kind of damaging asset swap that does not truly enhance the staff sufficient for the sorts of future draft belongings and/or present gamers that it might price And, for the most half, I’d agree that I do not need the Lakers to surrender all their (minimal) belongings in a single deal simply to get out of the Russell Westbrook enterprise completely.
That stated, I’d be weary of merely biting the bullet and sending Russ house if the targets of this staff are to nonetheless compete at a excessive stage. Remember, there are implications shifting ahead about LeBron’s future on the staff as he enters his remaining season underneath contract. It’s additionally by no means too early to contemplate what a non-competitive season does to the group’s relationship with Anthony Davis. As we’re seeing in Brooklyn, a number of years left on a contract doesn’t suggest a lot when a star participant decides his finest likelihood to win is with one other staff.
So, the Lakers had higher tread fastidiously when contemplating a path that is not exchanging Westbrook for a participant (or gamers) who may help them get nearer to being a title staff this season as a result of — as a franchise which has constructed dynasties upon a status for taking care of its superstars — managing the fallout of their divorce from Russell Westbrook might make all the distinction in the franchise’s close to and distant futures.
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