The Los Angeles Lakers are in active negotiations with the Brooklyn Nets to acquire one Kyrie Irving via trade. That’s not much of a secret anymore. If you’re a Lakers fan and you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past two weeks, you are fully aware of the situation. To complete any trade where the Lakers bring in Irving and his $36.5 million, 2022-23 salary, the team will have to send out Russell Westbrook and his $47 million contract for next season.
As it has not been a secret to anyone who slightly paid attention to the NBA over the past couple of weeks, it is undoubtedly known to Westbrook that he may be seeing his fifth team in five seasons next year. Given how he poorly and, at times, immaturely handled his altered role and the criticism that came when he so badly played while under that new role, one would have expected Russ to handle this situation just as badly.
That hasn’t been the case. In fact, Westbrook has gone above and beyond what has been expected of him during these awkward times that have to be at least a little frustrating for him, even if he would welcome a change of scenery.
Westbrook is a frustrating player once he’s on the court, and — during his one season so far with the Lakers at the very least — he’s been an off-court irritation to his coaches through not being able to handle constructive criticism in the film room. However, throughout his career he’s shown that he’s a consummate teammate, with many of the players at his side through the years applauding him in that regard.
And although the relationship between Westbrook and current leader of the Lakers franchise LeBron James may be over, that isn’t stopping Westbrook from being a pro’s pro when it comes to the way he carries himself within the organization that he is currently a part of.
That professionalism showed itself within the Lakers-Suns Summer League game in Las Vegas this past Friday night. While many were, fairly, focused on the awkward dynamic between LeBron and Russ presenting itself through the lack of a conversation between the two, Westbrook was sitting right by the Lakers’ bench and even came into the huddle to give the young kids some pointers.
Russell Westbrook’s the new Head Coach of the Lakers 😹 pic.twitter.com/3Mh9D7dmjb
— Corey Crone (@CoreyCrone) July 9, 2022
Scotty Pippen Jr., one of the Lakers’ current two-way players and an exciting part of their Summer League team thus far, said the following when talking about Westbrook entering the huddle in that video above (reported by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin):
“He gave me some pointers and I ended up using them,” Pippen said of advice Westbrook offered up on how to thwart the Suns’ defensive pressure.
Westbrook’s good behavior didn’t start this past weekend in Summer League. Before that, Westbrook was the only one of the Lakers’ superstars noted to have reached out to newly drafted Max Christie. This isn’t meant to be a knock on LeBron and Anthony Davis, but it is instead just a compliment to Westbrook for being a productive cog of the Lakers’ organization despite their continued attempts to trade him. The same sentiment goes for the fact that Westbrook attended Darvin Ham’s introductory press conference without LeBron or AD showing up (although it was noted by Ham that he had talked on the phone with those two).
Christie adds his focus this summer is on “getting my body right” and learning as much as he can considering how many Hall of Fame players are on the Lakers.
He says Russell Westbrook texted him to welcome him to the team the day after the draft. https://t.co/OMI6HOStXt
— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) June 28, 2022
I think some may see this as some sort of act from Westbrook to keep his public image nice and rosy, however, he doesn’t really strike me as someone that cares what the public thinks. This seems to be Westbrook just being who he is: a player who does try to be a good teammate.
Now, I say all of this as someone who’s written an article called “Russell Westbrook is not serious about winning”. I still believe that, but that is due to his stubbornness that comes from his approach to his team and his play once the ball is thrown up for the tip. Before that, Westbrook does seem to do and say the things that lead to a productive and efficient environment for a team.
Doing and saying the right things in an offseason is the easy part. Doing and saying the right things in the midst of a losing streak is the hard part. Westbrook never showed the ability to do the latter of those two tasks, but I do have to applaud him for still doing the former, even while the majority of the Lakers fanbase continues to hate on him. I don’t think anyone would criticize him if he were to continue to only focus on his business and charitable ventures outside of the Lakers instead of showing up physically and mentally for an organization that may trade him sooner rather than later.
So shout out to Westbrook for being professional. I really hope another team appreciates that part of him in the fall…