The Los Angeles Lakers started training camp with Russell Westbrook on the roster after trying to trade the guard throughout the summer, leaving the front office with a number of awkward questions to answer on Media Day.
Trade rumors mentioned the Lakers discussing a Westbrook deal with several different teams during the offseason. Some of the negotiations reportedly took place not long before the start of training camp. Still, the 2017 NBA MVP posed for team pictures wearing a purple and gold jersey at the Lakers’ training facility on Monday.
Less than 24 hours before, ESPN published an interview with Westbrook in which the 33-year-old said he was “all in” on trying to help the Lakers win games. Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said those words encapsulate the playmaker’s positive attitude he’s shown despite the tumultuous summer.
“Russ has been great all offseason in several meetings with Jeanie, with myself, with Coach, with all of us,” Pelinka said on Monday. “You look at the most recent comments he had on ESPN last night, that he’s all in, he’s all in to do whatever it takes for this team to win, in whatever role that means.
“But Russ is an extremely competitive basketball player and person. And as much as anybody in this room, he wants to win and wants to win at a high level — and to be a part of that. And so he has reflected that all offseason: that he’s all in here, wants to do whatever it takes to win. And Coach is confident that he can fit all these pieces together in a way to do that.
“That’s been the theme of our conversations with him over the last several weeks.”
However, when asked about the Lakers’ level of commitment to Westbrook, Pelinka didn’t rule out the possibility of reshaping the roster during the 2022-23 season — before praising the guard again.
“I think our job as a front office, lead by myself and with other great basketball minds that help — Jesse Buss, Joey Buss, Kurt Rambis — we work closely with Darvin every day to make sure we assemble a team that has players on it that reflect his mentality,” Pelinka said.
“And with that, for any player on our team, I think you have to always be evaluating the roster. A great friend once said that job is never finished. Job’s not done, right? We know that. So if we have to continue to upgrade our roster, throughout the season, we will. That’s what the trade deadline is for and other things.
“But Russell Westbrook is a great part of our team. He’s a person of high character, high work ethic, one of the greats to ever play the game. And I think that Coach Ham is going to bring another level out of him that we didn’t see last year. I see a relationship forming between Russ and Coach, of trust and confidence. And I think that’s what opens up that communication for him to say some of the things he shared yesterday.”
James thinks Westbrook can ‘absolutely’ have successful season in L.A.
LeBron James didn’t escape questions about Westbrook’s return either, particularly having been described as the driving force behind the Lakers’ efforts to trade the guard.
Asked whether he can see the 2017 NBA MVP having a strong 2022-23 season in L.A., James said: “Absolutely.”
And he continued: “Look forward to being a part of the journey with him this year. It’s going to be a great year for him and we’re going to be right there with him. We’re here and it starts tomorrow. It’s all about putting in the work and when you put in the word, you see the results.”
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