With the Los Angeles Lakers missing its two biggest stars while simultaneously dropping out of Play-In Tournament contention, all eyes are on Russell Westbrook. When the controversial superstar’s career landed him alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis last summer, the last thing Westbrook expected was to become the scapegoat for a failing Lakers season.
The Lakers point guard fell under constant criticism throughout the season from frustrated fans, which then later resulted in Westbrook addressing certain name-calling incidents, pleading with fans to stop harassing him and his family.
In Shannon Sharpe’s latest podcast, “Club Shay Shay,” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard had some words of advice for Westbrook as he navigates a particularly difficult season in his career:
“If I had to tell him anything I would just tell him … face the music with it. Like I just said, it’s going to happen when you’re playing in one of the biggest markets. So I would just face it, you know whatever questions y’all ask me, whether I think it’s a dumb question, it’s self explanatory or whatever, just face it and deal with it. Russell Westbrok’s career and legacy is undeniable, like that’s just the bottom line. The player [he is], the career he’s had, what he’s accomplished, the things that he’s done, nobody else has been able to do it. All of these triple doubles, I don’t care if it’s stat chasing or whatever people want to say, if I try to go every game and get a triple double for a whole season, I can’t do that. And there’s a lot of other people who can’t do it either. That’s hard in itself to actually do it, whether you’re trying to do it or not … We’re going to get criticized regardless. His may be a little more harsh because he’s Russell Westbrook, he’s playing for the Lakers, he’s playing with LeBron, it’s going to be more harsh but I would just face it. Be like, ‘I’m struggling, I’m still working at it, I’m trying to get through it. It might not be what y’all want to hear but …”
Lillard, who has been a beloved face in the Trail Blazers’ franchise since he was drafted in 2012, has never had to deal with the pressure of joining an already established team, let alone one of the biggest names in basketball. Lillard showed his respect for what Westbrook has dealt with this season, but he does acknowledge some things Westbrook could have done better.
The Los Angeles spotlight can be blinding for those unprepared for the pressure. Westbrook, however, has played alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden and in over 100 playoff games. Fans expected Westbrook to be his usual confident self while also taking a backseat to James’ running the offense.
Westbrook has obviously struggled in his new role, and having James and Davis both miss games throughout the season (20 for James, 38 for Davis) certainly didn’t make the adjustment any easier. Westbrook became the most important player on a team where he should have been at least the third option.
The transition could have been too much, Lillard suggests:
“Sometimes you struggle because of the situation you’re in, the markets you play in, the amount of tension you put on everything that makes everything so much worse. If you actually look at his numbers, there’s people shooting at a worse percentage, averaging worse numbers. His numbers are not bad numbers, it’s just the actual way the game is being played may not be what people want to see or what’s expected. Because the ball ain’t in his hand all the time, he’s not as much in control of the game as people are accustomed to seeing and that’s a major adjustment. Nobody’s ever been in that position to go ‘I’ve been Russell Westbrook my whole career and now I’m off the ball way more.’ It’s just so much more of a different situation for him but nobody gotta admit that so it’s easy to kick somebody when they’re down and all that. But if I had to tell him something I would just face it and deal with it, but I do think it’s been going to the extreme. It’s almost like people see something … and think everybody’s going to agree if they just talk shit about Russell Westbrook, so everybody’s just throwing their stuff at him. It’s going overboard at this point, in my opinion, like it’s just crazy to me.
Westbrook may not be doing as bad as people are making it seem, but compared to even his last season with the Washington Wizards, he’s averaging four less points, four less rebounds and four less assists with the Lakers.
Unfortunately, the stakes are only getting higher as the season comes to an uncertain close. Fans are looking to Westbrook to bring the Lakers back into the postseason, and he will need a drastic boost in numbers if they want to defeat the juggernaut Phoenix Suns.
Horton-Tucker’s contract may be difficult to trade
While the Lakers will unquestionably attempt to trade Westbrook this summer, they may also try to do the same with Talen Horton-Tucker.
The way his contract is structured may make that difficult though, so it should be an interesting offseason for the Lakers as they attempt to fix their issues from this season.
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