Russell Westbrook has been considered on of the NBA elites for a very long time. However, after this disaster of a season with the Lakers, Westbrook’s reputation has taken a big hit and many have deemed him to be cooked. I think it is more reasonable to assume that Westbrook’s struggles can be attributed more to the organization he is on more than his own play. There are multiple issues out of Westbrooks control that have made it very hard to preform in L.A.
Lack of a Role
The biggest reason that Westbrook is struggling is that he does not mesh at all with the current Lakers lineup. Westbrook is a ball dominant player who wants to take a majority of his shots at the rim. Unfortunately, LeBron James is also a ball dominant player who wants to take a majority of his shots at the rim. Russell Westbrook obviously is not going to take touches away from LeBron so it leaves him without a true role. Russ is also a notoriously poor three point shooter so he cannot change himself to be an off ball catch and shoot type player.
Yes, Westbrook has been successful with other ball dominant guys like James Harden or Bradley Beal or Kevin Durant. The difference is all those guys are terrific outside and mid range shooters, and take the shots that Westbrook cannot. Westbrook did not have to compete to get his shots because he was the primary finisher while the other superstar was the outside shooter. While LeBron is not a terrible outsider shooter, he is not elite either and he prefers his shots at the rim. It leaves Westbrook competing with one of the best players of all time for shots that they both want to take.
Lack of Spacing
The Lakers poor floor spacing this season has been well documented. A lineup of Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook does not provide nearly the amount of spacing needed for a guy like Westbrook to finish at the rim regularly. Opponents regularly clog up the lane, opting to leave three point shooters uncontested because teams know they will not hit them consistently. Russ has tried to take more outside shots but his efforts have been futile to say the least. The lack of spacing has also affected Russ’s assist potential because he really does not have a consistent catch and shoot threat to kick out to.
Lack of Support
It is fairly obvious that coach Frank Vogel and other members of the front office want nothing to do with Russel Westbrook. Vogel has been attempting to flat out bench him or sit him in clutch moments for a good majority of the season and the front office has had talks of moving him even before the season started. The trade that sent Westbrook to L.A was done on LeBron’s request and out of panic after having a poor playoff showing.
LeBron wanted to create his own super team but the problem is not all super teams are created equal. Look at the Warriors with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. The Warriors have been a successful super team because each “super” player still fills a specific role. Curry is your ball dominant guard, Draymond is the defensive anchor and Klay is the 3 and D option. The Lakers with Westbrook do not work as noted above because of the similar roles. Coach Vogel is upset because he has to figure out a way to win with a flawed roster. The front office is upset because they are paying Westbrook all this money for lackluster results. Lakers fans have also voiced their disapproval of Westbrook. All around Russ is just playing in a toxic environment and it clearly affects his play.
Russel Westbrook to Houston?
It is quite obvious that for Russel Westbrook to be even as half as successful as he was, he needs to find a new team that better suits his play style. One realistic possibility that could benefit Westbrook is a reunion with the Houston Rockets. The Lakers and Rockets have already floated the idea of a Westbrook for John Wall swap. The salaries are similar so it could very well be a 1-1 swap.
If Westbrook were to be traded to the Rockets it would allow him to be the main ball handler again. Jalen Green is also a fantastic co-star to put next to Russ. Westbrook would be able to make the team his own while also being able to be a mentor to the very young Rockets . If the Rockets draft correctly they should be able to provide Westbrook with enough spacing for Russ to be dominant in the paint.
Russel Westbrook to Indiana?
A dark horse location that Russell Westbrook could flourish in is the Indiana Pacers. A Buddy Heild for Westbrook swap makes sense and is very possible. In terms of fit, the Pacers offer lots of shooters and are more built for winning for the Rockets. The Pacers are limited in what they can add due to draft position. They would also have to eat Russ’s contact. They already have a solid core with Tyrese Halliburton and Myles Turner so they would not need to splurge. All the Pacers would need to add would be a few role players.
If the Pacers add a stretch 4 and a defensive minded forward along with Westbrook, they could very well contend for a playoff spot. The only concern is his fit with Halliburton, as Halliburton did not mesh well with De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento. Fox has a somewhat similar play style to Westbrook however Halliburton and Westbrook could fit together. The pair would just have to establish who the main ball handler is going to be. It is reasonable to assume that Westbrook’s resume and pedigree would help him earn that job without much kickback.
What if he Gets Released?
A location that makes perfect sense for Russ is a reunion with the Washington Wizards. If Bradley Beal does leave Westbrook could easily step in and be the main scorer. In terms of fit, the Wizards improved their roster since Westbrook was traded. They now boast Kristaps Porzingis, who is a solid second option who can space the floor nicely for a center. Most of Washington’s forwards would solid catch and shoot option’s with Westbrook on the floor. The Wizards could also use Rui Hauchamura or Deni Adjiva to acquire a more defensive minded player.
If Russ were to be released he absolutely would be taking a pay cut the next place he signs. If the Wizards were to sign Westbrook for cheap, the possibility of re-signing Bradley Beal rises. Westbrook, Beal and Porzingis would make for a very intriguing big 3. Add some role players and you have a team ready to fight for a high seed in the East.
For Russell Westbrook to become a positive contributor to a team he just needs a change. Los Angeles really did not want him from the start, and he does not fit in the system. Westbrook can flourish if he goes to a younger team like the Rockets where he can be the first option. Once Russ finds a team where he fits, I have no doubt he will flourish.