In an episode published Wednesday, an NBA podcaster offered his take on Russell Westbrook, the Los Angeles Lakers and last week’s report that the Houston Rockets would swap John Wall for Westbrook if it netted them the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick.
“Obviously, there are huge, huge — a lot of Russell Westbrook trade talks, trade rumors going around,” the podcaster said.
Hmm. Other than the Wall stuff, there really hasn’t been much. Even that particular report from last week, from longtime scribe Marc Stein’s newsletter, indicated that a Westbrook-for-Wall deal was unlikely, given that Los Angeles was trying to attach the 2027 pick to Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn to get some sort of difference-maker before the deadline. (Stein reported that the Lakers have offered that package to the Detroit Pistons for Jerami Grant, and the Pistons were not into it.)
Anyway, the podcaster continued: “I know I saw yesterday the Houston Rockets were saying they would trade John Wall for Russell Westbrook and picks. And the reality is I’m not sure Russell Westbrook gets traded. If I’m guessing, just as an NBA fan, I don’t really foresee it happening.”
Me neither! I understand the impulse to try something different, but Wall would have to be an enormous upgrade on Westbrook to justify this use of the only first-rounder Los Angeles can trade. Go on.
“Nor do I think it really should happen,” the podcaster said. “You haven’t really had the opportunity to see that team healthy. And how they could grow together healthy. And I also don’t like how Russell Westbrook gets all of the blame for everything going wrong. It’s just not possible that one guy is to blame for everything going wrong.”
OK. At this point, I have to reveal that this podcaster has another job: playing basketball for the Golden State Warriors. The above is what Draymond Green had to say about Westbrook on the latest episode of “The Draymond Green Show.”
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Green is an all-time great. He’s out with a back injury for now, but if he comes back healthy and plays a sufficient amount of games, he’d be my pick for Defensive Player of the Year. He is brilliant when it comes to anticipating what opposing teams and players are going to do, and he has been so good as a television analyst that, on Thursday, he became the first active player to sign with Turner Sports.
But the only reason I — or anyone — would ever write about these quotes at all is because they came out of Green’s mouth. Yes, it’s true that we haven’t seen the Lakers healthy for an extended period of time. Anthony Davis missed a ton of time and didn’t play up to his standards early in the season. LeBron James missed some time, too, and had difficulties of his own early on. Anyone paying cursory attention to this NBA season knows this.
As mentioned numerous times on ESPN’s “The Lowe Post” podcast: When Westbrook has shared the court with the two stars and they haven’t had either Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan cramping the spacing, they’ve outscored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass. (This sample is a total of 429 possessions.) Noting this, however, is not in itself a defense of Westbrook’s subpar season, nor is it a convincing argument against trading him.
The best reason for Los Angeles to keep Westbrook is that trading him would be too costly. This is precisely why there has been no buzz about the Lakers considering any deals. As for the idea that Westbrook shouldn’t be blamed for everything that has gone wrong: I agree! And I’m happy to report that Westbrook is hardly the only one who has taken the blame. Coach Frank Vogel’s seat was so hot that the front office was reportedly evaluating him on a game-by-game basis. If you tried to listen to all of the podcasts skewering ownership and management for making the Westbrook trade, letting Alex Caruso walk to save money and then signing a bunch of one-way players in their mid-to-late 30s to fill out the roster, you wouldn’t be done by the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
On Tuesday morning, this very website published a column by Bill Reiter ranking the biggest culprits for Los Angeles’ disappointing season. Westbrook was fifth. James was in the top spot.
If the Lakers fail to turn things around now that Davis is back in the lineup, I wonder how Green would break down exactly what went wrong, how he would divide the blame and what role Westbrook played in the whole thing. Anybody can protest the relative amount of criticism that a particular player gets when a team is performing under expectations, but that’s never going to be as interesting as making an argument to counter the substance of the criticism. In this case, every angle has already been discussed to death, but Green is one of the few people on the planet whose thoughts I’d still like to hear.