Westbrook, from hate to love in Los Angeles

Russell Westbrook (Long Beach, California, 1988) seemed to count the games remaining on his contract as a death row inmate counts the days remaining until his sentence is executed: with great fear. With each passing day, the end of him as an attractive element of the NBA drew closer after his slippery steps through Houston, Washington and, since 2021, Los Angeles. His contract for five seasons and 206 million dollars did not make it easy for these franchises to walk through these franchises, which required from him what they paid for him and did not get it from a player who refused to admit that his best years, those of the triples- doubles and the MVP, had been buried in time… until now.

The base (34 years and 1.90 meters) has accepted as a great professional to go from undisputed starter to sixth man in the Lakers. And it wasn’t easy: Westbrook had only been a backup 17 times before this season and that was in his rookie year. In total, he had 1,004 starts in 1,021 games. 98.3%. This course, after starting to play in the first three duels, he went to the bench and the change has resulted.

The Lakers, who started with a painful 2-10, are now at (a less painful) 11-16 after winning 9 of the last 15 games with an intermediate streak of 5 in a row driven mainly by the monstrous performances of Anthony Davis, but also because of Westbrook’s adaptation to his new environment. In his 23 games as sixth man, he has averaged 15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 3.8 turnovers in 28.2 minutes on the track. Good averages that he accompanies with good performances such as his 24 goals in the loss against the Indiana Pacers and the 11 passes to the basket with zero turnovers in the victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Los Angeles fans have gone from booing him to vehemently cheering him on.

“He’s had to score more in games with Anthony Davis out and LeBron not really in top shape. But what impressed me the most is that he really tries to concentrate to be a better playmaker, to get into the paint and make the rest of his teammates play ”, analyzes Stan Van Gundy in SI. The former NBA coach and TNT commentator also praises how he has led the change: “He was the guy he had to change. You’re asking a former MVP to change at 33. That’s not easy, asking a kid to play a different role at that age with all the individual success he’s had. And from the outside, I see no resistance from you this year.. I don’t see him pouting to get off the bench. He’s not making passive-aggressive comments in the media. I see the acceptance of a guy who is trying to make it work.”

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Figures and behavior that seem to close a door that was wide open since this summer, that of his future transfer. According to Sam Amick (The Athletic), sources with knowledge of the Lakers’ future plans see it as increasingly unlikely that Westbrook will be trade fodder before February 9.date on which the market closes.

His role is not only benefiting the Lakers who no longer see absolute evil in him, but it is also paying off for him, at a critical moment in his career: his contract ends this summer. “This (attitude) will change the way people see it. If he is willing to be a point guard who changes pace, to play less minutes, to have defensive energy… the first level teams will be interested in him this summer. Allen (Iverson) could have played three or four more if he’d been willing to come off the bench. He would have had a field day against the second units. Westbrook can do the same,” says a senior League executive.

This decision to keep Westbrook, not to use him as a bargaining chip, seems to close two of the three ways that the Lakers were studying to get assets that would improve the roster. There’s only one left: Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and draft picks for rotation-enhancing role players. Bojan Bogdanović (Detroit Pistons) and Cam Reddish and Evan Fournier (New York Knicks) arouse the most interest in some Angelenos who already want Westbrook.

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