It is too early. And we must insist: it is very early. And it is worth repeating it and emphasizing it ad nauseam: it is very, very soon. We all know it. There are no excuses or half measures. Neither risky readings. To draw conclusions, we are in such an early part of the season that it is even embarrassing to do so.. But even so, it is almost objective to ensure that the Lakers have a dilemma with Russell Westbrook. That starry star, that player turned legend, that belittled legend and that reviled sportsman that people admire from the outside but hardly anyone wants for their team. Because if, it’s too early to convince us in every way possible that the point guard is going to be a problem for the Lakers. But what is certain is that it is impossible to assure otherwise.
Westbrook landed in the Lakers on July 30. He did it in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The first and third participated in the 2020 ring; the second did not work last year. But one way or another, when Westbrook arrived in Los Angeles (along with two second rounds the Wizards also dropped), everyone wondered: what are the Lakers doing? Because yes, the Angelenos were looking for a coup to return to opt for the ring this course, something they could not do in the last, in large part, of the injuries. LeBron’s advanced age (he will be 37 in December) and Davis’ physical punishment forced him to reinforce the squad to be able to compete with the great teams in the competition. Nevertheless, no one knows if that will be achieved with Westbrook, and many view with some reluctance a movement questioned from the beginning.
On the one hand, the Lakers got rid of the 13 million from Kuzma, the 9 from Harrell and the 13 from KCP, with which they will be able to pay almost the entire salary of the new signing. But the sporting capacity of the base himself, and the difficulty generated by his enormous salary, will cause a double problem: in the game scheme and in the directive part, which was left with practically no salary margin to reinforce an impoverished and, at the moment, quite short staff. And that it has been filled with an infinity of minimum veteran contracts (Howard, Carmelo, DeAndre Jordan, Rondo …) that have raised the average age of the workforce excessively. and has raised much reluctance despite the huge conglomerate of spectacular names that have come together in Hollywood.
And then there is the sports part, of course. Westbrook’s place in a game scheme other than one in which he has the ball all the time is almost unimaginable. And in the Lakers, with LeBron or game generators off the bench like Rajon Rondo, it is practically implantable. His minutes with Rondo in preseason or in the opening game against the Warriors have been tremendously out of sync and the backup is more effective in his minutes than the starter. And Rondo also complements himself much better with a LeBron who also needs the ball. In said opening match, by the way, 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 35 minutes, poor numbers that he had not repeated in so long on the court since November 10, 2009. Almost nothing.
The thing does not stop there: Westbrook is not a great shooter of three (only 30% during his career) and has never developed the catch and shoot. Neither did the Lakers, with inside players with a defensive profile, they have players similar to Steve Adams or Enes Kanter, receivers in Okalhoma of his incredible passes. And in defense he has an eternal unfinished business that he has never managed to improve or, apparently, has paid too much interest in it. And on a champion team, it seems difficult to sustain a 35-minute-a-night start without defending for long. Especially with a court coach like Frank Vogel, a very great demand and an ignominious premiere: in addition to everything said, a -23 with him on the track. In other words, a disaster.
Win or please
When a star of Westbrook’s dimension, with his aura and his salary, comes onto a team, it’s very difficult to root him out. He comes from achieving the fourth season of his career averaging a triple-double, to lead the Wizards to the playoffs and partially reconcile with public opinion. It is not, in any case, the situation of Carmelo Anthony, a player who has found it difficult to adapt to a new role and to new times, but who comes from having a secondary role in the Blazers and has assumed a similar one, or even more pulling residual, in the Lakers. Westbrook arrives at a good time, with much more money committed and a cache that prevents leaving him on the bench. At least, for any coach with two fingers of a forehead, including a Frank Vogel who has started by giving him the starting job. At first, this has to be so. But it doesn’t have to be this way forever.
Now, you have to find the balance. Vogel can hold with Westbrook as the starter, but if the situation continues and, as before, other combinations work better, you will have to reduce your minutes while ensuring that the star does not flaunt his ego or his pretenses of greatness and thus transform a good group chemistry into one with a problem that, in the current NBA, can become unsolvable in just a few weeks. Therein lies the real nuance for the Lakers if Westbrook continues to flaunt poor shot selection, pursuit of his individual stats and erratic demeanor. For now It seems difficult to find the place of the point guard in the game scheme of a team that wants to aspire to the ring. But, as we have said, there is a small consolation for the Lakers. That it is still early. Coming Soon.