Russell Westbrook’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers ended in a huge disappointment, prompting questions over the guard’s future in L.A.
Westbrook averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.8 turnovers during the 2021-22 campaign, which the Lakers finished without securing playoff basketball. The 2017 NBA MVP rarely seemed comfortable next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor due to chemistry issues caused by the many injuries that let the so-called Big 3 play in 21 games only — but also his questionable compatibility with the star duo.
Westbrook admitted to not being at his best in 2021-22. However, the guard said he “very rarely” felt like himself on the court.
“There were times and spurts,” Westbrook said. “I was just trying to find my way, honestly, just trying to do whatever it is that was asked of me. Whether, you know, it was best for the team, I just do whatever was asked of me.
“Sometimes I may not agree with it, but that I kept to myself and did what I could have for the team regardless. The frustrating part is losing. Like, making a big sacrifice and trying to find ways to play differently and do different things, and I’m putting in position, and we’re still losing — to me, [it] didn’t make much sense.”
Westbrook added he came to L.A. knowing he would need to change the way he used to play, primarily when it comes to ball-handling and his usage rate. But the 33-year-old felt like he was never given a chance to be himself in a way he thought could benefit the team. Instead, Westbrook said he had to constantly fight false narratives about him and his attitude.
“I would say, when I first got here and just being a person, unfortunately, that people create narratives of me and who I am, and what I do, and what I believe in that are, you know, just not true,” he said.
“I always have to, like, prove myself again and a year after year after year, which is to me just unfair. And there’s really no reason I have to do that. So when I first got here, I just felt that I never was given a fair chance just to be who I needed to be able to help this team.”
And he added: “From top to bottom, just every aspect. What I bring to an organization is not just basketball. It’s not. I am well-faceted in different aspects of my life, whether it’s in a community, whether it’s leadership, whether it’s different things of helping other teammates or people who are creating friendships, relationships, because I think that’s the bigger goal because basketball is a short time in your life and you have an ability to be able to create friendships, create relationships with people throughout that time.
“And when you have to, like, try to like prove to people, I try to let people take this perception of who they think of me and kind of, you know, what people may have said about me, it kind of takes you coming in like, ‘Okay, well, good luck,’ you know, type of thing. And I just never felt I had a fair chance on the basketball front, on any front.”
When asked about LeBron James and Anthony Davis publicly encouraging Westbrook to be himself, the guard said: “Well, that wasn’t true. Let’s be honest.” Also, the playmaker said he felt like he always needed to prove his capabilities to the now-fired head coach Frank Vogel.
But Westbrook maintained he tried to embrace changes and adapt — just like he has always done in his career, the guard added.
“There wasn’t a time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’ Like, there was conversations where I may have showed like, what I bring to this team, in my abilities to better help the team win,” he said. ”May not have been in the cards of kind of how that, you know, the coach staff wanted to play. But there wasn’t an incident where … I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’
“[I]f you think about any situation I’ve been in, I’ve had to make the sacrifice, whether it was in D.C., whether it was in Houston, whether it was in Oklahoma City, it didn’t matter. In actuality, I’ve always been able to take a sacrifice. And this to me is weird, because I always get questioned like, ‘Is he really taking the sacrifice?’
“Like, yes, I’m doing everything that I can. And everything that’s asked of me at the time, whether I like it or not, let me finish, whether I like it or not. But I think it’s important to understand that when watching the game and understanding what I bring to the table, and if I’m in position to be able to be successful, that’s really not up to me.
“I just do what I’m asked and if it works, it doesn’t work, and I can take what comes with it.
Westbrook wishes he had more conversations about changes to his role when James & Davis were injured
Westbrook’s role did change frequently in 2021-22 due to James and Davis’ injuries. However, he thought the Lakers didn’t communicate with him enough about adjusting his and the team’s game — for instance, how often he would have the ball in his hands — amid the stars’ absence.
“I mean, unfortunately, the things you mentioned, I wish would have happened. But those conversations never were had on of any sort to kind of figure out how we will play and kind of what was best when we were on the floor. So, you know, that’s that,” he said.