The likelihood of Russell Westbrook starting the upcoming regular season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers seems to increase with each passing day.
Because it has been hard to fit Westbrook in alongside LeBron James, plenty of people around the NBA think the Lakers would be better off if Westbrook came off the bench and led the team’s second unit.
“Rival executives and scouts reached by FOX Sports were nearly unanimous that Westbrook and the Lakers would be best served if he led their second unit, even though Westbrook hasn’t come off the bench in an NBA game since Nov. 28, 2008, a month into his rookie season with the [Oklahoma City] Thunder,” wrote Ric Bucher of Fox Sports.
“‘It’s hard to see him as anything but a backup for the Lakers,’ one Western Conference scout said. ‘It’s hard for him to play with [Anthony Davis] and LeBron [James]. It might be OK if they let him go with the second unit. He has to play the only way he knows how unless he can miraculously learn to shoot.'”
Last season, as the Lakers’ campaign gradually turned into an unmitigated disaster, the possibility of Westbrook coming off the bench was brought up pretty often.
However, then-head coach Frank Vogel didn’t remove him from the starting lineup, and one reason why may have been his mindset and whether he would’ve accepted such a role.
Whether Westbrook would accept coming off the bench apparently is still a major obstacle.
“While an Eastern Conference scout also said he sees Westbrook ideally coming off the bench, he believes the biggest question is whether he is ready to accept it,” Bucher wrote.
“‘It is not what he has left, it is: How he will accept that he is not the player that he was?’ the scout said. ‘It’s similar to Carmelo [Anthony]. I’m not sure Russ has the awareness to accept a lesser role.'”
New Lakers coach Darvin Ham will reportedly have more authority to bench Westbrook late in games this season.
The former league MVP is still a good player, even if he isn’t what he was just a couple of years ago. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game during the 2021-22 season, and he played very well down the stretch, even if his play didn’t have much of an impact on the team.
Westbrook is still an above-average player when it comes to pushing the pace, attacking the basket, rebounding and hitting the open man. However, he has always been a very poor perimeter shooter, and he has suffered from bouts of defensive inattention for years.
The Lakers have tried to trade him going back to the middle of last season, but they have been unable to consummate a trade. It’s starting to look like their best chance of getting value back for him could be to wait until right before the trade deadline to deal him.