Throughout the offseason and the early part of the preseason, sacrifice has been a common theme amongst the Lakers’ role players. The largely veteran roster has been around the NBA long enough to know that ceding a certain amount of responsibility on the court can pay big dividends for team success down the road.
A number of players have spoken about a willingness to come off the bench if necessary, with Malik Monk the latest among them. The likes of Wayne Ellington and Rajon Rondo have expressed similar sentiments as well leading up to this season.
But as important as it is for role players to sacrifice, it is also important for the stars of the team to do the same, particularly so in the Lakers situation. The arrival of Russell Westbrook will bring lots of excitement and production on the floor, but it will also require change and sacrifice.
After years of being the leader of his teams, Westbrook enters a situation in which LeBron James is the unequivocal head honcho in Los Angeles, something he not only recognizes but is also willing to adapt to. In a piece from Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Westbrook talked about playing alongside James, and learning the value of sacrifice and commitment necessary to win a title:
“LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship,” Westbrook told ESPN. “My understanding of the commitment, understanding the sacrifices that we are both going to have to make, including myself and [Anthony Davis] as well for the betterment on the team, and finding ways to be able to win a championship. And that’s the ultimate goal. So anything along the way we, we cannot get distracted, cannot get the deterred from our ultimate goal.”
Few, if any, players in the league have more experience in adapting to playing with superstars than James, who has made a career of it. Whether it was the original Big Three in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his new Big Three in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, or back in Los Angeles alongside Anthony Davis, James has continually sacrificed and adapted parts of his game so both he and his co-stars can flourish.
In each instance, James has also won a title with his new superstar teammates. Westbrook also acknowledged that aspect while noting his desire to not be the outlier case of superstar teammates with James:
“When you get a chance to play against one of the greatest players of all time and consistently, it helps my game,” Westbrook said. “It helps my preparation, makes me focus more on the things I need to focus on to get to a point where I can sit down and say, ‘I’ve accomplished everything I can accomplish in this league and now I’m lucky enough to be able to play alongside him.’ So I’m looking forward to that, looking forward to the things we can accomplish here together this season.”
While James and Davis served as perfect complementary pieces to one another, James and Westbrook represent a skill overlap that will require some level of sacrifice from both. While it’s not the first time James has played next to a ball-dominant player — with Irving and Wade as former notable cases — it is one of the first times Westbrook will be in this situation.
Westbrook did find success in a small window of time alongside James Harden during his one season in Houston, but also crashed out of the playoffs that same season inside the bubble at the hands of the Lakers. In order to find success this year, Westbrook will need to replicate the success he had at his peak in Houston, albeit in a new fashion alongside a different type of player in James.
If the two can figure out the right blend of sacrifice to coexist and still have success individually, the Lakers as a whole could find the 18th banner they’re looking for.