Russell Westbrook: The undervalued leader

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – Russell Westbrook’s contract is one of the biggest steals in the NBA. Electing to stay in his hometown, the former MVP will play for under $4 million this season. The two-year deal signed in July makes Westbrook one of the most undervalued players in the league.

“Money is never a driver for me. Being in a place that was welcoming with open arms and an organization that welcomed not just myself but my family, which is most important to me. This is a group of guys that I love being around,” said Russ at Clippers media day. “It is hard to come by a good organization that is willing to come through and give anything that you may need to be successful and be around guys who want to win and understand the value of winning, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook against the Orlando Magic on March 18, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline
Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook against the Orlando Magic on March 18, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

A bit of a wild card, Westbrook’s aura alone will make him a leader in the Los Angeles locker room. His intensity and tenacity have made him one of the greatest point guards of all time, but he has recently faced criticism for sometimes playing out of control. He also has never been efficient from beyond the arc in a league ever more reliant on the three, contributing to the cheaper contract.

“Russ has been a great leader since he got here, day one, minute one,” said Terance Mann. “Watching him play with so much confidence no matter what anybody says about him and how strong he is mentally is definitely something I took out of his book.”

Westbrook has already cemented himself amongst NBA royalty by averaging a triple-double for a whole season four times. He will attempt to add to his legacy by winning his first ring on a team desperate for championship jewelry. His lone finals appearance came in a losing effort as a member of the Thunder in 2012.

“It would be an unbelievable attribute to add. It would be a blessing to be able to do something like that, especially being here in Los Angeles,” said Westbrook. “We just have to figure out ways to make sure collectively as a group we are taking it step by step to get to that goal.”

At 34, Russ is no longer the player he was in his prime. The point guard will suffer through offensively inefficient nights, but Westbrook can still be an incredibly impactful player on a talented Los Angeles Clippers team.

“I’m still as fast as anybody, can jump as high as anybody, can play at an elite level, and I still see myself as an elite basketball player in this league. I can do pretty much anything (offensively), and I can guard the best (defensively),” said Westbrook.

His teammates lauded his work ethic and repeatedly stressed the importance of what Russ brings in terms of the mental side of the game.

“His approach, personality, and competitive drive really rubbed off on the team from day one when he stepped into the facility,” said Norman Powell. “He is a guy that is gonna say what is on his mind and hold everybody accountable and hold everybody up.”

Paul George had his best season as a pro playing alongside Westbrook in Oklahoma City. The star forward pushed the organization to roll the dice on the future Hall of Famer after he was bought out of his contract last year.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook (0) with the block on Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant as guard Eric Gordon looks on. File Photo/Mark Hammond for News4usonline

“Talk about somebody you know on a nightly basis that you’re gonna get his full 100 percent effort if not 120, 130 percent. It was nice knowing that, especially on the dog days when you are just not feeling it, you might be under the weather, you might be tired, achy, whatever it is, those excuses would not creep in because the energy he brought on a nightly basis was contagious,” said George. “With his energy, communication, and leadership, he has a ton of value to the organization.”

The Clippers are a deep team with a plethora of scoring options and have been title contenders ever since acquiring George and Kawhi Leonard in 2019. Injuries have played a significant role in the past season’s demise, but the goal is again the first championship in team history. Westbrook’s energy and leadership for a full season could help change the franchise’s fortunes.

Top photo: Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook at the podium during the team’s media day on Oct. 2, 2023. Photo by Robert Clarke/News4usonline