Lakers enter into a new era with Russell Westbrook

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – Russell Westbrook is home. Westbrook is back to his roots, a hometown just outside of Los Angeles where he grew up being a Los Angeles Lakers fan. Thanks to a blockbuster trade between the Lakers and the Washington Wizards, Westbrook’s dream of someday playing for a team he once idolized, has come true. 

“It’s surreal,” Westbrook said at his introductory press conference inside the STAPLES Center media room on Tuesday, Aug. 10. “I think that it still hasn’t kind of hit me yet. Being from LA, growing up not too far from here, being able to watch the parades, try to go to them; try to miss school to go to them, being a Laker fan, but everything’s come full circle for me. It’s a blessing.”  

The addition of Westbrook gives the Lakers a distinct advantage over everyone else in the NBA. By trading for Westbrook, the Lakers automatically put themselves in the forefront of NBA title contenders.

Even though this is home for the former Leuzinger High School and UCLA alum, the Lakers officially welcomed Westbrook and his parents to the purple and gold family. 

“I think today is an incredibly exciting day for the Lakers organization to be sitting on the podium to introduce one of the best playmakers that’s ever played in the game is something that we feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to do today,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “We had some goals this offseason as we’re transitioning to building our team. Two primary things that we wanted to address were adding another playmaker to our roster and then adding shooting.”

Besides adding Westbrook to an well-decorated roster that now includes Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard, alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers looked stacked on paper to win the NBA’s ultimate achievement.

With the signing of Anthony, Ariza, Kent Bazemore and Wayne Ellington, the Lakers solidified the shooting part. 

 “I think over the last couple of weeks I’m sure all of sure have seen that we’ve been able to meet those goals with a lot of confidence,” Pelinka added.

By getting Westbrook in a trade that sent Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma to the Washington Wizards, along with the draft rights Isaiah Jackson, the Lakers were spot on with the playmaker element the team needed to add. 

“Today is about the playmaker piece,” Pelinka said. “I think thinking about Russell Westbrook, there’s two things that come to mind for me as general manager. One is that he is one of the most liked and respected and beloved players in the league by players he’s played with.

“He’s an incredible leader, and when you talk to teammates from other storied franchises that he’s played for, to a man, the input you get he’s one of the great teammates they’ve with,” Pelinka continued. “And that speaks to his character and leadership. And those are qualities that are important to our team.”

What tends to separate Westbrook from just about everyone else on the basketball court is that he wears his competitive fierceness on his sleeves. Westbrook is basketball’s version of a freight train that’s not going to stop. He just keeps coming and keeps coming.

The Lakers are well-versed with what Westbook can do on the court. The late Kobe Bryant and the Lakers took down Westbrook and an upstart OKC team that included Kevin Durant and James Harden in six games in the first round of the playoffs during the 2009-10 NBA season.

Two years later, Westbrook and OKC got the best of the Lakers in five games in the second round of the postseason. Westbrook and OKC advanced all the way to the NBA Finals where they were eventually defeated by James and the Miami Heat in five games.

It’s his relentless style of play that has made Westbrook the most physically dominating guards in the NBA. It is also why Pelinka and the Lakers sought to add the nine-time NBA All-Star to their roster.  

“I think that he is in an elite class of players, in terms of his competitive nature,” Pelinka remarked. “One of the core qualities as we build a roster is seeking out guys with an ultra sense, heightened sense of being competitive warriors on the court, players that played with the ultimate sort of grit and grind tenacity, and Russell stands in an elite class in that category. And that’s drawn us to him.”

When he suits up for the Lakers this fall, Westbrook will be playing his 14th season in the NBA. He spent the first 11 seasons of his career playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook’s biggest achievements as a player for OKC was making it to the NBA Finals once and winning the league MVP award for his work during the 2016-17 season.

It was during that MVP season that Westbrook took his game to the next level, averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game to become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double in a season.

Westbrook did one better than Robertson, averaging a triple-double during the 2020-21 NBA season. As a member of the Washington Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists per game.

Westbrook is the first player in NBA history to average a seasonal triple-double at least twice. But Westbrook’s game goes way beyond the 2012 Olympic gold medalist becoming a stat monster.

His deal has always been about doing work. More importantly, Westbrook plays the game of basketball not based on other people’s opinions.     

“One thing I’ve always done and always will do is stay true to myself,” Westbrook said. “I think that you can never waiver, that you can never waiver in this league without being here for a long time, and I always want to stay true to who I am.

“With that, making sure I am able to listen and be all ears because I am coming to an unbelievable organization, team and players that I’m able to learn from,” Westbrook added. “Each year I try to find things I can learn and to help improve my game and be a better player. I’m going to do that here as well.”   

Another thought about Westbrook joining the Lakers is what version of Westbrook is the team getting? Are they getting a fading superstar with a little gas left in the tank? Will the Lakers be getting the Russell Westbrook from the last two seasons, where the two-time scoring champ was deemed to play a second fiddle role to Harden and Bradley Beal?

It’s kind of difficult for someone like Westbrook to be considered playing a backup role when he averaged a triple-double for a season (2020-21) and dropped 27 points a night when he played with Harden in Houston. So, does Westbrook feel he has anything to prove?

“No, I don’t,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been blessed and thankful to be able to be in this league so long. I’m lucky to be to play and be healthy. When I got drafted in the NBA…that was me proving people wrong. When I was able to go to college…go to UCLA from the inner city, that was me proving people wrong. Just making it out the hood was proving people wrong. I don’t need to do that anymore. I’ve been able to bless the people around me, my family. I’ve been able to impact people all over the world with this platform that’s been given to me and I’m going to continue to do that.”

Featured Image Caption: Aug. 10, 2021. Los Angeles general manger Rob Pelinka (left) and head coach Frank Vogel (far right) help welcome Russell Westbrook to the organization during a press conference at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline