Lakers Opinion: Russell Westbrook Is Returning Home To West Coast Ready To Win
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook has returned home to the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in hopes of bringing a title to Tinseltown, and things seem different for him this time around.

We’ve heard things will be different with him before, but James, a longtime friend of Westbrook, was part of signing off on this trade believing that he ultimately gives him the best shot at contending for a title.

So with the move being made, here are some reasons why it could work out for the Lakers and lead to the organization’s 18th championship.

Hometown Hero

There’s a lot to unpack from this blockbuster deal, but Westbrook returning home is one of the best reasons to be excited about his willingness to do whatever it takes to win a championship. He lives and breathes California having not only grown up in Long Beach, but he even played college ball for the UCLA Bruins.

Westbrook was also a fan of the Lakers growing up. He’s mentioned that Magic Johnson was his favorite player, while he’s never been shy about how Kobe Bryant was one of the players he grew up idolizing.

Westbrook even returned home to speak at a peace walk in Compton with Kendrick Lamar and DeMar DeRozan during the summer of 2020. Speaking of 2020, Westbrook even loves west-coast hip-hop as he paid tribute to his belated friend and west-coast rapper Nipsey Hussle with a 20-point, 20-rebound, 20-assist game after Hussle passed away in 2019.

Hussle grew up in the 60s neighborhood of South Los Angeles, so Westbrook’s unique tribute to his friend was also a tribute to South Los Angeles as 20+20+20=60. He did even more in 2020 by delivering meals to the nurses at a Los Angeles Hospital and donating to the Los Angeles Angeleno fund for needy families as he showed his heart has always been in his hometown, which he recently alluded to on Twitter.

Friendships and Player Approval

The criticism of Westbrook amongst the media is strong, but this has never stopped his peers from giving him respect. One person who has never been shy about publicly praising Westbrook’s game is LeBron, having given him props in post-game pressers and even showing up in a video on the night Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-double record.

Westbrook also has a close friendship with Davis, who elaborated on him being one of his closest friends in the league during the 2017 All-Star weekend. Davis opened up on how close their parents were and how he and Westbrook got to know each other from being part of the same agency at the time.

Not only is it no wonder the three met in Los Angeles before signing together, but it’s no wonder that Westbrook is willing to team up with two players he has a close relationship with off the court as well. The trio discussed many things, which was expanded on publicly in an article by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times:

“They talked about putting their egos aside and playing as one in their quest to bring the Lakers another NBA championship. Westbrook talked about how his only intention was winning and coming back home to Los Angeles to become a champion,” wrote Turner.

This sentiment should help even the most pessimistic of fans realize things may actually be different this time although many will still want to wait until they see the finished product on the court.

A former Laker great who made his stamp of approval for Westbrook known on multiple occasions is the late, great Kobe Bryant. Kobe and Westbrook had many matches in the latter half of Bryant’s career, including two crucial playoff series in 2010 and 2012.

Westbrook has never been shy about his admiration for Kobe having referred to him as his idol, “a mentor, friend [and] brother,” even rocking a No. 8 Kobe jersey in the bubble. Bryant returned the favor having said that Westbrook is the player who reminds him most of himself.

We even published a video of Bryant praising Westbrook in a postgame press conference from the final road game of Kobe’s career. Kobe went on to call Westbrook the most athletic player he’s ever played against before reiterating how similar their aggression on the court is:

Basketball Fit

How is this going to work? This is the question analysts, fans and sports pundits alike have been asking themselves since the NBA’s newest big three formed.

Many forget that the 2019-20 Houston Rockets experiment of James Harden and Westbrook wasn’t going so bad before the pandemic stopped the league in its tracks on March 11 as the Rockets won nine of their 11 games in February. During that stretch, Westbrook dropped 41 against both the Lakers and Boston Celtics while over 30 in nearly all of those wins while shooting more efficiently.

What was the secret to this stretch? Westbrook was playing off-ball just as he has agreed to do when LeBron wants to run the floor.

James and Davis have even reportedly agreed to switch positions if need be with the former sliding to power forward and the latter to center. Speaking of Davis, the thought of Westbrook and him running a pick-and-roll alone should be viewed as one of the most dangerous two-man attacks in the league as the former has historically made bigs better, yet has never played with a big as talented and agile as Davis.

Westbrook has never shown himself to be a great 3-point shooter and although he gets hustle steals, he will have to make up for his prior defensive deficiencies with a willingness to adapt to the Lakers’ defensive brand of basketball. Regardless, the Lakers will need to address the issues of 3-point shooting, but with the veterans willing to take the minimum on the market, L.A. has already begun doing so with a number of signings.

This is definitely the best squad Westbrook has been a part of since he led the Oklahoma City Thunder within one game away of making the NBA Finals in 2016. This season will be one of the most entertaining in Lakers history as Westbrook has a chance to not only make his first NBA Finals appearance since losing to LeBron and the Miami Heat in 2012, but also produce a historic eighteenth championship for the most storied franchise of all time.

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