Russell Westbrook quickly became a controversial figure on the Los Angeles Lakers during his first year with the team.
Despite skepticism over Westbrook’s fit, the Lakers faithful and a fair share of NBA analysts initially showed excitement about the 2017 NBA MVP’s arrival soon after his move was made official. The nine-time All-Star further fanned championship expectations, saying he was focused on making the game easy for LeBron James in order to win his first-ever NBA title.
But reality check came about in the first weeks of the 2021-22 season already as Westbrook failed to develop chemistry with James, Anthony Davis and other Lakers teammates. Combined with continuous injury woes, the Purple and Gold never looked like championship contenders, eventually failing to even qualify for the playoffs.
The failed Big 3 experiment led to rumors over a prompt Westbrook-Lakers breakup — with his future remaining uncertain to this day. However, franchise president Jeanie Buss recently told The Athletic’s Sam Amick she thought the 33-year-old playmaker was the team’s best player in 2021-22:
“All I can say is that, from my point of view, [Westbrook] was our best player last year. He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy. It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team.”
The defiant remark stunned Amick, who decided to contact Buss again to confirm whether she actually considered Westbrook to be among the Lakers’ best players of the season despite the general consensus stating the otherwise. In her response, the Lakers president backtracked on her view to some extent, explaining she alluded to Westbrook’s availability last year:
Yes, as you might imagine, I did a double take when Jeanie shared her viewpoint that Westbrook was the best the Lakers had to offer last season. By most accounts — yours truly included — his debut season with the Lakers was an unmitigated disaster.
So after the interview ended, when I realized that I’d failed to follow up quickly enough to get total clarity on this stunning take, I decided to send Buss a note asking if this was her actual belief.
“The word I should have used was ‘consistent,’” she wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”
The Lakers have seemingly been trying to change the widespread belief that they are trying to get rid of Westbrook with even James — who was involved in an awkward incident with the guard during the 2022 Summer League — talking the playmaker up in public recently.
However, the Purple and Gold are understood to be continuing talks with NBA teams over a potential Westbrook trade. Either the Utah Jazz or the New York Knicks appear to be the likely destination for the guard if the deal gets done.
Pacers’ asking price in Westbrook negotiations revealed
Over the last few months, rumors kept mentioning the possibility of the Lakers swapping Westbrook for Indiana Pacers duo Buddy Hield and Myles Turner if they sweetened the deal with draft capital.
The Pacers were believed to be asking for two first-round picks to make the trade happen, which the Lakers reportedly refused to offer. However, the latest reports claim Indiana hoped not only to get L.A.’s 2027 and 2029 first-round picks but also acquire Talen Horton-Tucker and send Daniel Theis and his remaining $27 million contract the other way.
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