Russell Westbrook was supposed to help a team just two years removed from a championship climb back to the mountaintop. Instead, his struggles helped keep the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs. The trade was among the worst in NBA history, but even with the season over, Westbrook still refuses to accept responsibility for his part in it.
During his exit interview with the media Monday, Westbrook claimed that he “was never given a fair chance to be who I needed to be to help this team.” When one reporter mentioned LeBron James and Anthony Davis frequently messaging that the team needed to “Let Russ be Russ” throughout the season, Westbrook responded by saying “Yeah, but that wasn’t true. Let’s be honest.” On (now fired) head coach Frank Vogel, Westbrook said that he’s “not sure what his issue was with me.”
It was just another round of deflection from a player who, earlier this season, argued that he is “allowed” to miss shots and turn the ball over. His issues with Vogel are well-documented, as Westbrook publicly grumbled about being benched for fourth quarters by saying that he “earned the right to be in closing lineups” despite most metrics arguing otherwise.
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In truth, Westbrook’s struggles with the Lakers were largely self-inflicted. While it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for being a poor shooter, his lackadaisical defense and unwillingness to emphasize screening and cutting on offense made him a poor fit from day one. His failure to recognize that he should not run the show on a team that employed LeBron James is on him.
Now Westbrook has a $47.1 million player option for next season to decide on. If he picks it up, he’ll make more money than he’d ever sniff on the open market. If he declines, he will have the freedom to pick his next team. Assuming he does pick up that option, the Lakers will try to trade him, and acquiring parties will likely view him more as an expiring contract than a future Hall of Famer. Westbrook’s days as a superstar are over, and the sooner he recognizes that the better the end of his career will go.