Iman Shumpert gets real on why Russell Westbrook’s failed tenure on Lakers wasn’t his fault

Mike Battaglino
4 Min Read

Russell Westbrook took a lion’s share of the criticism for the Los Angeles Lakers’ slow start last season, but Iman Shumpert said that it may have been misplaced based on the pace at which the star guard was asked to play.

With LeBron James controlling play, the Lakers’ style didn’t mesh with Westbrook’s trademark abandon, at least according to Shumpert, a veteran of 10 NBA seasons before last playing in the 2020-21 campaign.

“Bro, he didn’t throw himself into this to get 20 percent touches and now he gotta be super efficient,” Shumpert said. “His whole knock has been he’s not efficient his whole career. He don’t play on efficiency, he play on heart.

“And now you gotta deal with Bron and them. They needed to play at a different pace. Bron needs to control the pace, push when he wants to. Russ needs y’all to have as many broken plays. A rebound happen, and y’all gotta deal with him comin’ full speed and you gotta look for Russ over your shoulder. You gotta deal with him doin’ that. That’s Russ’ game. That’s where he becomes a nightmare for you.”

The Lakers opened the 2022-23 campaign with a 3-10 record as they adjusted in part to bringing Westbrook off the bench. Things got so bad that owner Jeanie Buss said she started receiving death threats.

The record started to improve, and Westbrook put up some respectable statistics in his new role. But it wasn’t the string of triple-doubles that fans had grown accustomed to when he was starring earlier in his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After starting all 78 games he played in for the Lakers during the 2021-22 campaign, Westbrook started just three times last season. The 34-year-old wound up playing in 52 of the Lakers’ first 55 games, averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds per contest.

Finally in February, the Lakers eventually moved on and traded the nine-time All-Star to the Utah Jazz in a three-team deal that brought D’Angelo Russell back to Los Angeles. Westbrook never played for the Jazz and finished the season with the Los Angeles Clippers. He then re-signed with the crosstown rivals this offseason.

It may have been just a coincidence, but Westbrook’s departure led to greater fortunes for the Lakers, who from the day of the trade closed the season to finish 43-39 and qualify for the play-in round. From there, they stormed all the way to the 2023 Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

During that time, several players emerged, most significantly Austin Reaves, who is thought to be a breakout candidate this season armed with a new contract. It is fair to ask if maybe Reaves and the Lakers as a whole would not have been as successful last season and going forward if Westbrook were still around.

Share This Article
Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. He remembers the birth of "Showtime" and has always admired the star power the Lakers have brought to the game.