When the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook this offseason, a lot of the NBA world had questions such as “How exactly does he fit next to LeBron James?” and “Did they have to give up an entire team’s worth of quality role players to get it done?” But Westbrook was going to lift up the Lakers in their non-LeBron minutes, plus LeBron is the league’s ultimate problem solver and had proven wrong everyone who had written him off before, so the Lakers got the benefit of the doubt.
No longer. At 16-18 and having lost five straight, this is not just a slow start. Westbrook is under a microscope after a 4-of-20 shooting game on Christmas Day where he missed 11 shots in the restricted area. He is still putting up counting stats — 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 8.1 assists a game — but his efficiency is off. Westbrook’s 51.9 true shooting percentage is below league average, his assist percentage is down but his turnovers are way up, and the Lakers get outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court (and outscore opponents by 2.4 when he sits).
That has led to a lot of sports-talk airtime and online rants about how better to use Westbrook — more corner threes, use him in the dunker spot as a cutter to the rim, have his set picks for LeBron — or outright calls to trade him.
Westbrook has heard it all — and heard it all before. He’s not listening. Here is what he said Monday, a Laker off day, to reporters about all the “help” he is getting, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“Everybody wants me to do this but then they don’t want me to do this,” Westbrook said on a video conference call with reporters Monday. “Honestly, I’m over the whole situation with what everyone else wants me to do and what they think I should be doing…
“Honestly, I think I’ve been fine,” Westbrook said. “The conversation has been heavily on how I’m playing and what I’m doing, but I think people are expecting me to have f****** 25, 15 and 15, which, that is not normal. Everybody has to understand, like, that’s not a normal thing that people do consistently.”
“Fine” is not good enough for a top-three player on a team that wants to contend. And it’s not about the numbers; it’s the efficiency.
Westbrook has played better the second half of the last two seasons, although has been more about teams adjusting to him and giving him more freedom than him fitting in a system next to other stars, as needs to happen in Los Angeles.
A Westbrook trade is next to impossible, with him making $44.2 million this season and with a player option for $47.1 million next season he is expected to pick up. The Lakers would have to give up more young players and picks as sweeteners to get a team to take on Westbrook and that salary. For example, a trade for the Rockets’ John Wall works financially, but why would Houston do it unless the Lakers threw in picks or players?
The Lakers can make some smaller moves, but the core of this roster is what the Lakers are riding with. The Lakers will have to adjust to Westbrook and Westbrook will have to adapt to the Lakers — and he’s going to have to pick his spots, be more efficient, and turn the ball over less. Plus, not have the glaring mistakes on defense.
There’s a lot to clean up, but if Westbrook and the Lakers don’t they will have a very short playoff visit. If they make it at all.