Do you remember that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas meme? The one where CJ’s walking down an alley and says, “Ahhhh shit. Here we go again.” That’s how I feel writing this article, a follow-up to an article I wrote nearly one year ago. Once again, we’re looking at the trajectory of Russell Westbrook’s current career and what it was thought to become and asking the question: Why?
Why can Russ not fit in with an organization outside of Oklahoma City?
Why is he blamed for the failures of every club he’s played for?
Why is he under so much scrutiny in media circles?
Why can he not get out of his own head?
One major topic since the NBA trade deadline has been will Russell Westbrook stay in Utah, a place that nobody thought he would be considering, or whether he will accept a buyout. A player of Westbrook’s caliber in a Utah Jazz uniform would be wonderfully paired in pick-and-roll scenarios with All-Star big man Lauri Markkanen. Sharing a backcourt with former 6MOY Jordan Clarkson could propel the Jazz into a 6-8 seed before it’s all said and done this season. Or…it could be doomed from the start. Time will tell one way or another.
“I’m sorry, he’s just more trouble than he’s worth…I wouldn’t want him on my team. I don’t care if you’re three games under .500 like the Bulls or think you have a shot at winning it all like the Clippers.” Skip Bayless said that on an Undisputed Valentine’s Day episode on FS1. This is not the first time Skip has had some choice words for Mr. Triple Double, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. As a matter of fact, Skip is just the latest media personality in the last few days to have nothing but negative remarks about Russell Westbrook. And of all the negative words from the media, we’ve heard nothing of the sort from the Lakers organization or his now former teammates.
In fact, Los Angeles Lakers GM and Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka came to Westbrook’s defense in an interview with ESPN’s Dave McMenamin: “Our aspirations when we did the Westbrook trade was it would lead to a championship, a contending team. We didn’t meet that goal. So you have to look to pivot if something is not working to correct it. I think this trade deadline, there was an opportunity there. I think it’s really unfair to put the last year and a half, or whatever period of time that is, on one player. I think the whole roster has to come together and fit. And part of sports sometimes is if things aren’t working, you have to fix them.”
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham credited Westbrook for what he deemed an unbelievable sacrifice when accepting a sixth-man role, making the best of the hand he’d been dealt. Additionally, a host of NBA players, from Draymond Green to former teammates Bradley Beal and Paul George to former hated rival Patrick Beverley have come to his defense. “That’s my dog. Lifetime. A lot of dinners together. We caught a real ‘brothers’ vibe. It was real,” Beverley said on his podcast about his short time playing with Russ.
The problem was never Russell Westbrook. The problem was the fit. I selfishly wanted this experiment of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook to work but deep down, I knew it wouldn’t. The dynamic of these players was very similar to the OK3 experiment, which I touched on in the last article on this topic. On paper, there look to be 1-2 championships coming. In reality, however, the team’s makeup didn’t produce the chemistry both fans and the front office hoped it would. And that is of no fault to Russ. It’s also no fault of the Lakers organization as a whole. That’s just how these things happen when you gamble on superteams. It’s happened repeatedly throughout the last 20 years, especially throughout the history of the NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets might be the poster child for failed superteams. Remember that 2013-2014 team with five…wait, I’m sorry, seven literal current (at that time) and former All-Stars? Or the “7-11” Nets that my colleague Jonathan “JG Smoove” Goudeau called a potential failure from when James Harden was traded? Maybe we can revisit the OK3 Experiment or the 2012-2013 Lakers that had two-time MVP Steve Nash, prime Dwight Howard, and a top-five MVP candidate in Kobe Bryant? It’s not always the players, more often than not, it’s the fit of said players.
So why is it that Russell Westbrook is the scapegoat? Why is he the sacrificial lamb so to speak? Because in life and the sports world especially, there always has to be someone or something to blame misfortune on. And throughout the history of the NBA, there is often someone who the media makes sure unfairly receives the blame for the lack of success the league’s golden children endure. Currently, it’s former MVP and Mr. Triple Double himself, Russell Westbrook.
I have watched Russell Westbrook’s Hall of Fame career since his rookie year in Oklahoma City. He is on a list of my five favorite players. Except the Washington Wizards during the height of the pandemic, I have seen him play, in person, for every team he’s been moved to, and I’ll do so for the remainder of his career. However, as much as I am a fan, I would be remiss to say that Russ has brought some of the blame upon himself. The keyword is some, not all.
No elite player is without their flaws, and Russ is among those at the top of that list. A consistent record-setter, Russell Westbrook, up until the Utah trade, was making a case for 6th Man of the Year. Averaging 16-6-7 in 49 games off the bench, this has not been his most efficient season, but it has been one of his most consistent. Taking on a role he is not used to showed his willingness to make things work in LA. There is just one question that has yet to be answered.
What the Brodie knows is that time is slipping away to win the ever-elusive NBA championship. We now need to see is if Westbrook can escape something I mentioned in my last article about him.
Nearly a year ago, I called Russ this generation’s Allen Iverson. A player who is as polarizing as he is perplexing. What comes with that is whether he can let go of or share the spotlight long enough to be carried as much as he does the carrying. As of Tuesday morning, the Clippers are seen as the frontrunner to sign Westbrook.
Until its official, allow me to remind you of all he’s accomplished throughout his fifteen-year career:
- Only player in the NBA to win the scoring title, MVP, and average a Triple- Double in a season
- Only player in NBA history to win back-to-back All-Star MVP game awards.
- Only player in NBA history to average 40 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists over a 5-game span.
- First player in NBA history to record five consecutive 30-point triple-doubles in a season.
- NBA’s 2017 Most Valuable Player
- Two time scoring leader
- Only player in NBA history to average a triple-double throughout three consecutive seasons and in four out of five seasons.
- Only player in NBA history to record a triple-double without missing a free throw or field goal (3/22/2017 against Philadelphia 76ers).
- 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist
- 2010 FIBA World Championship Gold Medalist
- NBA’s All-Time leader in triple-doubles (198 and counting)
- Top-Ten All-Time in total assists (9,002 and counting)
Russell Westbrook is arguably a top-five point guard ever. The only stain on his career will be a missed championship if he never gets the chance to win one. Not one teammate, not even Kevin Durant, has said he’s a bad teammate, that he’s a bad leader, or a bad locker room presence. It has always been said by teammates and rivals alike that he is professional and that players love competing with and against him. These “reports” seem to come from thin air. Westbrook isn’t a bad person or teammate, he just cares so much that it can look bad in the moments of his play. That is the most curious this about Russell Westbrook. He loves the game so much it often gets in the way of his chance for the ultimate victory. But that is nothing to fault him for.