When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook a year ago, fans of the Purple and Gold asked: “Why Not?” One year later, more fans are asking “Why?”
Westbrook’s first season back home didn’t go as planned. The Lakers immediately became the favorites to win the NBA Championship with Westbrook on board but failed to make the playoffs altogether and it was bumpier than anyone could have imagined.
He averaged his lowest point total since his second season in the NBA with consistent shooting slumps. His minutes per game dipped to his fewest since the 2013-14 season as former head coach Frank Vogel contemplated benching Westbrook. There were even rumors of trading him for John Wall at the trade deadline to salvage the season.
As the fit proved unworkable, hearing jeers from the home crowd further ailed the former MVP’s confidence. With Westbrook blowing easy layups and losing the ball on routine plays, some around the league also wondered if his eyes or hands had problems.
The Lakers’ season became deplorable and some blame can be attributed to Westbrook’s lack of willingness to adapt. However, Westbrook was the most durable Lakers player, logging 78 games in a variety of starting lineups that never allowed Westbrook to find a role.
Westbrook’s play improved as the season progressed too, keeping the Lakers’ slim playoff hopes alive. He finished the season averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
Westbrook rocked the rim with a vintage slam over Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in mid-January. Westbrook was in the middle of a tough stretch offensively — scoring in single digits in three of the last four games. The dunk gave Westbrook some juice as the Lakers ended their three-game losing streak with a six-point win.
Westbrook is expected to opt into his $47 million contract for next season. That leaves him under contract for one season with the Lakers before he can hit free agency.
A keyword for Westbrook going into next season is “sacrifice,” one that new head coach Darvin Ham said was part of his conversations with the point guard. Westbrook has to become more active on the defensive end and willing to work off the ball. Working on his 3-point shooting should be a main goal of the offseason too.
Ham believes Westbrook still has a lot left in the tank. It’s up to Westbrook to tap into that and figure out his best role alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
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