Russell Westbrook is still a fighter, the Lakers are still ripped apart


El Segundo, CA - September 26, 2022: Russell Westbrook.

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook points to someone during a media day. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

It was destined to be a day full of grandiose optimism, Lakers It’s supposed to start training camp By glorifying reporters with a new coach, new focus and new energy.

It was, instead, another day at Russell Westbrook Hill.

Still Laker. It’s still combative. still russ.

“Whether they want me here or not,” he said, “doesn’t really matter, frankly.”

The Lakers are still upset. They still hope. still torn.

“For any player on our team, you always have to evaluate the roster… If we have to keep upgrading our roster all season, we will,” said Rob Pelinka, but later added, “Russell Westbrook is an amazing part of our team.”

So far. Maybe for this month. Maybe until the middle of the season. Maybe not for another second. Perhaps this is not how they want to start a season full of anxiety and devoid of championship hopes.

The two parties had all summer to figure out a way forward from it Last season’s nightmareThey did, however, appear on Media Day on Monday at the El Segundo facility that is still stuck in a bitter and bewildering place.

Westbrook rolled his eyes. Bilinka sighed. Westbrook looked bored. Bilinka looked tired.

It is completely illogical. It’s beyond a distraction. It’s a complete mess.

Westbrook doesn’t seem to want to be here, and the Lakers would definitely like to trade him, but it’s not that easy. He’s made $47 million this season, and he may not be a rookie anymore, so the Lakers will definitely have to concede a couple of future first-round draft picks to convince someone to take it. They don’t want to give up such an important part of their future unless they can bring back a star who can help them win now. This star has not yet materialized.

So Westbrook is here, but kind of, but not really. And the Lakers are trying to be complementary — “He was great, whatever I asked him to do, he did,” new coach Darvin Hamm said — but how long will that last? Maybe until the last seconds of the season’s inaugural when one clatter?

For the sake of Westbrook and the team, he has to go. But for now, he’s not going anywhere. So, even on these supposedly brighter days, the ceremonial training facility was shrouded in complete darkness.

Russell Westbrook listens to a question from a reporter.

Listening to a question from a reporter, Russell Westbrook has been aggressive at times during Media Day. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

When Westbrook met the reporters, his answers were short, his eyes wandered elsewhere, his patience was weak, and the following exchange was typical.

He was asked, “How comfortable are you being yourself, the way you know it, in a team type that has other stars and in that system? Or does Ross being Ross mean something maybe new this year?”

Answer: What is the question?

“Do you think you can do that?”

“do what?”

“Be yourself and play the way you feel comfortable and want to play in this system?”

“I am myself every day when I wake up.”

Westbrook was more expansive when asked if he thought the Lakers still wanted him. He said he didn’t care if they wanted him, then he explained.

“I mean, you all have jobs — sometimes people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us there, as you can probably attest in any job around the world,” he said. “As a professional and a worker, I have to do my job and do it in the best way I know how to be able to support and take care of my family and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Pelinka never said the Lakers didn’t want Westbrook. However, he noted that in the wake of LeBron James’ last two-year contract extension, the organization has a responsibility to give James another chance at the championship before he retires. Pelinka carefully explained that under NBA rules, they will only have one chance to trade first-round picks for 2027 and 2029 in a single deal, so they have to take advantage of it.

“So if you do this trade…it must be the right trade,” he said. “We are committed to doing everything we can to put together the best team around LeBron.”

So Pelinka will continue the search. In the meantime, there is some hope that the respected Hamm can help turn Westbrook into the kind of selfless, defensive-minded player that will make the Lakers want him again. It looks like Hamm has already made it to Westbrook in ways former coach Frank Vogel couldn’t.

“Just being able to relate and connect with me is really just a positive thing,” Westbrook said. “We talked about a lot of different things and we talked about a lot of different things, which doesn’t always have to be about basketball. And that’s something that grows a relationship.”

Then again, Westbrook thought he was in contact with James and Anthony Davis during last season’s training camp, and ended up accusing them of being dishonest in their support. Westbrook now says they haven’t played enough games together – 21 total – to properly judge their cohesion.

“Going into this season, God willing, being able to be healthy and finding ways to succeed…is definitely a conversation,” he said.

It’s hard to believe that playing more games with James and Davis would fundamentally change Westbrook’s ball-based style. Just as it is hard to believe which of the Laker is now claiming that Westbrook is his best friend on the team.

Yes, it’s the guy who once called him “trash.”

“That’s right,” said Patrick Beverly. It was at my press conference. We hit the weights together. And I mean, not like the team weight stuff. We’re at Lab 6, 6:30 a.m. “

He added, “You guys obviously think we have the worst relationship in the world… [but] When you have two guys who like to win, two males, and you put them together, it usually works… In order to get where we have to get, man, we have to become great friends.”

So try Beverly. And James tries. And Davis tries. and tries to solder. Bilinka is trying. It’s comprehensive, the number of Lakers who say they’re trying to make this untenable situation work.

Question: Is Russell Westbrook trying?

It would be hell if he didn’t.

This story originally appeared Los Angeles Times.


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