Given everything that’s happened on the court in the 2021-22 Lakers season, you would have figured there would have been plenty of accountability on the part of Russell Westbrook in his exit interview on Monday. Well, you would have figured that if you didn’t really know much about how Westbrook operates, I guess.
Instead, there was nearly no accountability shown on his part for what was probably the most disappointing individual season of anyone on the Lakers team… and that’s really saying something. The only bit of responsibility that Westbrook took for his part in this failure of a season was in the following quote reported by Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll that was in response to how he could grade his own performance in the season given his constantly evolving role.
“And obviously I could have had a better season, but based on the positions and how we played and where I was at on the floor, I wasn’t really able to do some of the things I was able to do even last year, like obviously I was coming off of averaging a triple-double, so anything less than that would not be a good season for me, in my eyes. You know what I’m saying?”
So for anyone saying he took no responsibility for his poor season, that’s not true. He admitted he could have had a better season. However, the implication that anything less than averaging a triple-double wouldn’t be a good season for him is puzzling. Did he really think he’d be able to even come close to averaging a triple-double alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis?
Apparently, he really did think he could do that, and the two Lakers superstars may have partly been at fault for that. As when the L.A. Times’ Dan Woike brought up the fact that LeBron and AD said many times throughout the year that they wanted to “Let Russ be Russ”, Westbrook basically cut him off and bluntly said, “Yeah, but that wasn’t true. Let’s be honest.”
Even if LeBron and AD had accidentally convinced the foolish Westbrook that he wouldn’t end up having the lowest usage rate of his career since his second year in the league, there were also reports that the three had productive conversations leading to the Lakers’ decision to trade for Westbrook, conversations where Russ “assured them he would accept any role given to him” according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Prior to the regular season starting, it had seemed that those conversations landed with Westbrook as he said the following to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (h/t Silver Screen & Roll).
“LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship,” Westbrook told ESPN. “My understanding of the commitment, understanding the sacrifices that we are both going to have to make, including myself and [Anthony Davis] as well for the betterment on the team, and finding ways to be able to win a championship. And that’s the ultimate goal. So anything along the way we, we cannot get distracted, cannot get the deterred from our ultimate goal.”
That quote has to be infuriating to read for any Lakers fan, as that turned out to be a lot of lip service from the former MVP with his words to the media, his actions on the court, and his reported actions off the court not coming anywhere close to fully realizing that preseason statement. Along the way, whether it was a constant butting-of-heads with the media in lieu of accepting blame for the team’s mounting losses, reported “animated exchanges” between Westbrook and assistant coach David Fizdale when Westbrook’s shot-selection was challenged in an early-season film room, or those poorly selected shots never, ever, ever ending… it’s hard to take Westbrook’s championship aspirations seriously.
Honestly, we should have seen this coming. Westbrook has been known for being stubborn throughout his entire career. It’s what inspired his own catchphrase, a phrase meant to be positive by wondering “Why not?” when presented with any challenge. But instead, Westbrook asked himself that question in all of the wrong ways, most likely asking himself “why not” play the exact way I’ve played my entire career? “It won me an MVP and helped my teams in the past, right?” However, this perceived idealogy shows just how unserious Westbrook is about winning at the highest level in the NBA, as that same type of mentality has caused him to be on four NBA teams in the past four seasons, with that likely to become five in five seasons next year.
Before moving on with the point I’m making, let’s highlight a few more frustrating things he said in his exit interviews, all reported by Silver Screen & Roll’s Harrison Faigen in this thread:
- Westbrook said he’s “never had issues with any coaches”, obviously insinuating that he had no problem with head coach Frank Vogel. Westbrook even went as far to claim Vogel had an issue with him and that Westbrook wasn’t sure why. Russ then went on to talk about a story of how he sent Vogel a bottle of champagne for Vogel’s wedding anniversary, then saying he did that with no expectation of anything in return except… you know… being able to bring it up later down the road to show how nice he is and how mean Vogel is for probably hating him just because of his refusal to make the “sacrifice” of trying on defense all season.
- He quickly shot down a question about his dream of playing for the Lakers, rebutting it with, “No. I didn’t even dream about playing in the NBA”. Silver Screen & Roll’s Jacob Rude took about five seconds to find the following quotes from Westbrook at his introductory press conference where he stated that “Being from L.A., you always wish that you can play for your home team.”
- Westbrook said there were “so many made up stories that are not true”. I wish I could believe him, but the sheer volume of the stories makes it seem like at least some of them have to be true, with his on-court play and general demeanor in the media making it seem like most of them (if not all) are likely to be true.
To me, all he had to do this season was to start doing some relatively easy things he hadn’t done throughout his career while maintaining a level of efficiency to help the Lakers compete for a championship. That includes simply trying on defense, leveraging his athleticism in ways he hadn’t before (cutting and moving without the ball come to mind), stay efficient at the rim with an increase of attempts he’d receive there (the increase happened but the efficiency did not), and to not be a road block to improvements the team could make on the court (haha).
He failed to make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices to succeed in any of those four things, with his teammate LeBron James — as proven a winner in this league as anyone — making much more sacrifices in his game through his willingness to play center for a good chunk of the season.
Now, maybe I’m being too harsh on Russ. To give him credit, although it’s been reported that he did want to come to the Lakers, he wasn’t the ultimate decision-maker as LeBron, AD, and the front office were too blind to see how poorly the three would fit together. Westbrook also wasn’t the one that caused the injuries to the two superstars who have become very injury prone in the last couple of years, and he definitely didn’t sign all of the veteran minimum players on the team… a group of guys that may not even play in the NBA next year given how washed up they looked.
But still, the lack of self-awareness is just astounding. That cocky and defiant attitude may have been what lifted him to the greatest heights of individualism in the NBA in the form of an MVP. But refusing to change that part of him, even if it’s only in reference to his connectivity to his teammates on the court, will ultimately be his downfall in pursuit of a championship before the end of his career.
As it is still going on after what may have been the most frustrating season of his career, there’s little hope of it changing at any other point between now and his retirement.
And because of that, it’d be foolish for any team, coach, or fan to take him seriously in pursuit of a championship with any franchise.