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Drunk off Hype: A Fans Perspective (Rant) On the Lakers Trading for Russell Westbrook
By: Khaqan Khan
This one here is for my fellow Russ fans:
You're telling me my favorite player, who is perhaps the most scrutinized player outside of LeBron James in the last five years, finally has a legitimate chance to win a ring WITH LEBRON? I hope Lakers fans don't complain that they traded a bunch of rotation pieces for Russell Westbrook, perhaps the best Lakers point guard since Nick Van Exel? Like, how desensitized are we as basketball fans when Russell Westbrook gets traded to the Lakers for next to nothing, and the first thing we think about is spacing? Huh?
It's not like they had spacing to begin with. Also, the Lakers endured four years of Kyle Kuzma making dumb plays, so I think they should be fine with Westbrook. All it'll take for Lakers fans to buy in is one fast-break dunk during the home opener in front of a fully charged Staples Center crowd who are still waiting for their championship parade.
This is not just good but great for basketball. Whether you like the Lakers or not, the league is more fun when the Lakers, Warriors, and Knicks are going all at the same time.
It's also important to remember that free agency hasn't even started. The Lakers have a chance to build out this roster with shooters through either a couple of sign-and-trades or a bunch of veterans on minimum contracts. It's already being reported that 'A ton' of veteran free agents are ready to sign minimum deals with the Lakers. This roster is far from complete. However, the reason I like this trade so much is for a few reasons. One, LeBron James gets so much pressure taken off of him, especially in the regular season. If the price to pay for a well-rested LeBron James in the playoffs is a regular season of the coaching staff letting Westbrook do Westbrook things, then so be it; at least it will be entertaining.
I also think this is the best coaching staff Westbrook's been a part of in his professional career. Head Coach Frank Vogel and the presence of LeBron James might be enough to finally hold Westbrook accountable for his bad habits that frustrate basketball fans. It already seems the players have a head start on that. A report came out after the trade that LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook met to discuss the possibility of teaming up and agreed to put aside their egos. The article also mentioned that Anthony Davis committed to playing more like a center. WHAT! This is something basketball fans have begged Davis to do since he got drafted. Laker fans should be grateful for the addition of Westbrook just for that reason alone. Davis is finally going to play center!
Other reports suggested the Lakers front office was torn about potentially adding Westbrook. Making it obvious this was clearly a move by LeGm. LeBron realizes Westbrook was the best player they could get this off-season. I also think LeBron realizes despite all of his flaws, Westbrook does raise the ceiling of your team as a walking triple-double and non-stop energy. An underrated factor is how Westbrook's presence and drive will energize the locker room, which often felt like the players got worn out. Following Westbrook throughout his career, aside from Reggie Jackson and maybe Kevin Durant, it's clear that he has a profound impact on his teammates wherever he goes.
Just from last year, the way other Wizard players talked about him like he was the big brother they never had but always wanted.
Rui Hachimura referred to Westbrook as 'Senpai,' a Japanese term of endearment for a mentor-type figure. Halfway through the season, when the Wizards were under .500, the players credited Russell Westbrook with helping to define what their roles were on the roster leading to a more cohesive Wizards team that propelled them into the playoffs. The friendly side is a side that Westbrook doesn't necessarily care to show the media, which might hurt his perception because we do see the no-b.s. side of Westbrook when it comes to dealing with the media. However, I predict that we are about to see a bunch of bromance Brodie content from Lakers social media pretty soon.
Chasing the NBA Championship can be a monotonous grind throughout a few seasons. As simplistic as it sounds, injecting Westbrook, who has a prior close relationship with Davis and LeBron, into this Lakers roster will make coming to work more fun. Westbrook's hunger will carry the Lakers throughout the season, especially in spots where in the past, they would show up flat against sub-.500 opponents.
Also, Westbrook's deep-rooted connection with the city of Los Angeles will be something special to watch. The city is still mourning the loss of influential pioneer Nipsey Hussle, who happened to be a close friend of Westbrook's. I'll never forget Westbrook putting up a 20-20-20 stat line to honor Nipsey and the Rollin' 60s'. Westbrook is an extension of the legacy Nipsey left behind. The city of Los Angeles is ready to embrace that.
I still can't believe Russell Westbrook will be a Laker.
Just for a second, imagine this with me. Next June, it's the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets in the Finals. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook against Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. The number of times I've had to change my underwear just thinking about the possibility of Russell Westbrook winning the Finals MVP after stealing the ball from James Harden, insulting Kyrie Irving, but also applauding him for all the off-court stuff he does while dribbling past him, and then looking off an open LeBron James to dunk it on Kevin Durant's balding head! Excuse me while I go take care of myself in the bathroom.
Oh my Goodness. Just imagine what the Russ detractors will come up with to discredit his championship run. Oh wait, I don't have to use my imagination. Bill Simmons already started throwing shade by bringing up that Westbrook has had the most luck with playing with other stars. Yea, okay, cool. What does that have to do with him joining the Lakers?
Do we just forget that Westbrook deserves credit for why those players are considered as great as they are?
Kevin Durant won an MVP while playing alongside Westbrook. Paul George peaked as a top-5 MVP candidate. Steven Adams got paid 100 million dollars being Westbrook's go-to pick and roll partner. Bradley Beal called Westbrook the best teammate he's ever had while averaging 30 points per game. Victor Oladipo even credits Russell Westbrook for inspiring him to transform his body, which led to Oladipo winning Most Improved Player the year after he got a first-row seat to Westbrook winning an MVP.
Oh yea, Westbrook's MVP. Let's talk about it.
A lot of basketball big brains have a disdain for Westbrook winning the MVP over James Harden in 2016-2017. They claim he won off narrative and stat-padding triple-doubles. Those experts forget to bring up how clutch Westbrook was that season and how many wins he pulled out of his ass.
Russell Westbrook's 2016-17 MVP season was one of the most clutch years in NBA history.
What Westbrook did by staying put in a small market after Kevin Durant unexpectedly left was special. He gave us everything we, as sports fans, wanted. It's okay for you to say James Harden should have won, but to disparage the individual effort Westbrook displayed that season is a bit ... pompous if you ask me.
Let's take a look at Russell Westbrook's resume:
NBA Most Valuable Player: 2017
2x NBA scoring champion: 2015, 2017
5x NBA games played leader: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
9x All-NBA selection:
First team: 2016, 2017
Second team: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018
Third team: 2019, 2020
9x NBA All-Star: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
2x NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2015, 2016
Westbrook went to the finals as a 23-year-old only to lose against one of the best teams ever in the Big 3 Miami Heat; went to the conference finals four times; was one game away from beating the 73-9 Golden State Warriors; only missed the playoffs twice out of twelve seasons. And he had a legitimate chance at a title in 2013 before he was taken out by a Patrick Beverly cheap shot.
Last season, he took a Washington Wizards team that had no business being in the playoffs to the 8th seed.
I'm not naive. I understand all of Westbrook's flaws, and if I were a GM, he would not be my first, second, or third choice of point guard, but that's the thing, I'm not a GM. I'm just a fan, and as a fan, a player like Russell Westbrook is why I watch sports. Here is someone that gives 200% effort every game, has an attitude about him and has some of the most insane highlights ever. Off the court, he is one of the most likable guys in the league and has quietly built a respectable resume of efforts to uplift his community and be an exceptional role model as an African-American family man. I dare anyone to find someone that has something negative to say about Westbrook as a person. Maybe being less private would help his public perception, but that's not a realistic demand you can have about a player.
I worry as basketball fans that we lose sight of why we love sports and often take special players for granted because we measure everything through the lens of winning a Championship. Only one team gets to win a championship a year. I hate the watered-down argument that because this one player is a winner, then, the other player has to be a loser. Just look how public perception shifted within a matter of a few games. During the Nets-Bucks series, Giannis was dubbed a fraud and a regular-season player. "Oh, he can't shoot.' or "he doesn't even have a bag," whatever the f*** that means.
He didn't start hitting three-pointers. He didn't change his free throw routine. Instead, he kept to his strengths, stayed the course, and ended up proving how great he actually is.
Once Giannis won the Finals, all of a sudden, his resume was validated, and you were dumb to think a two-time MVP and former DPOY couldn't win a championship. I'm just tired of these so-called fans that watch the NBA through House of Highlights, box scores, and recycled groupthink twitter narratives. The nit-picking that happens to certain players is unhealthy for the league, but I digress.
Perception is a mf. Why do we keep letting it take the joy out of watching the game?
I mean, I get it everyone has their own agenda when watching games. Some people just want to see Kyrie cross everybody up, others want the numbers to pan out, and most people just want to see LeBron win or lose. We all watch, hoping the outcome validates our opinion.
That's why I'll tune into the Lakers next season so I can be a part of the journey and celebrate when RUSSELL WESTBROOK WINS FINALS MVP!
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