In the opinion of retired Los Angeles Lakers icon Shaquille O’Neal, Russell Westbrook’s struggles last season were due to his deference toward LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
O’Neal was asked during an interview with Dime Magazine what went wrong for Westbrook with the Lakers, with the Hall of Famer citing a change in the guard’s on-court approach.
“I don’t think it was his age,” O’Neal said. “I think he was just, and I say this respectfully, I just think he was showing too much respect. I don’t care who I’m playing with it, I’m giving you 28. Fans pay a lot of money for me to make $100 million, I’m giving you 28. It’s not, ‘Every time I get the ball, look for the other stars.’ He can play, too, so when I got the ball, I’m gonna do my thing. I can’t do my thing, I’m looking for him. That’s how you got to play. You just can’t concede all the time — here, here, here. Nah, throw me the ball, let me go to work. I gotta average 28 and 15 for personals reason and for these fans.
“He was just being too nice. I don’t know the relationship between him and LeBron, but if you put that down on paper and I don’t know nothing about basketball, that’s a hell of a backcourt, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Why it didn’t work, I don’t know, but watching him play, he was super passive. I don’t need you to be passive, I need you to play your game. I’ll be calling plays, when you get the ball after they miss a shot, run, if you ain’t got nothin, pull it out, give it to LeBron, and call some plays. That’s how it was me, he was just thinking too much. He’s a guy that, when he plays freely, he’s a monster.”
Last season, Westbrook finished with an average of 18.5 points per game, the first time he’s averaged under 20.0 points per contest since the 2009-10 season. In addition, he also saw dips in his rebounding and assist averages.
For years, Westbrook was prolific when it came to delivering triple-doubles on a nightly basis. Yet, the decline in the aforementioned categories and chemistry issues while on the court led to his disastrous season.
O’Neal also believes that Westbrook spent too much time thinking last season instead of just playing with abandon.
The pressure is on
Westbrook turns 34 in November and will be starting his 15th NBA regular season next month. O’Neal’s dismissal of the aging process and yearly grind of NBA play are merely his opinions and not statements of fact.
Other factors related to Westbrook could also be in play, though right now, the Lakers are simply trying to get the most out of him for the 2022-23 season.
Westbrook is in the final year of his contract and set to make about $47.1 million this season. His massive salary and current on-court issues help explain why the Lakers have had no luck in finding a trade partner for his services.
The present plans
Whether or not Ham’s plans mirror those of O’Neal is uncertain. However, the team is clearly desperate to get some value from Westbrook before his contract expires.
That may ultimately take the form of a trade or resurgence by Westbrook that helps the Lakers battle the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In most team sports, a little selfishness isn’t considered a wise strategy. In the opinion of a Lakers Hall of Famer, he begs to differ.