When the Russell Westbrook trade was officially announced, general manager Rob Pelinka lauded the “special mentality of competitiveness” it takes to be the point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, and in addition to being an absolutely savage but subtle shot at Dennis Schröder, that descriptor is also fitting, considering how driven and committed Westbrook seems to be about winning in his hometown.
And while Westbrook’s unique brand of competitiveness won’t be on full display on the court for the Lakers until the season starts in a few months, he’s already started to show signs of it off the court. For an example, one doesn’t need to look any further than how Trevor Ariza ended up back in Los Angeles for a second stint in purple and gold.
A few hours before the Westbrook trade became official — but, notably, more than a week after the deal was agreed to — Ariza was officially announced as a Laker, and during his first Zoom call with the media on Friday, he admitted that Westbrook was the first Lakers player to try and get him to join up. And he started early.
“It’s funny because Russ got traded, and 20 minutes after he was traded he was on my phone,” Ariza said, laughing. “So I don’t know if he was telling me he was happy to be home, or he wanted to go to dinner or whatever, I just know that he called my phone like ‘yo, what are you doing? Where are you at? I need to talk to you, I need to see you.’”
Ariza didn’t reveal where or when he and Westbrook got together next. And like a true 17-year veteran who understands that the league’s tampering rules grow seemingly more convoluted by the year, he never did admit what they talked about, acting the part of a trained witness in a legal case, as though his old-for-the-NBA 36 years of age would not allow him to recall those conversation topics.
And while Ariza also said that coming home to be a full-time parent to his kids after traveling without them from team to team for the last few years was the biggest draw of Los Angeles, he did admit that he and his fellow UCLA alum stayed in touch until he signed his deal to join the Lakers.
“We kept in constant communication, and then it just so happened that I’m here,” Ariza said, again with a knowing smile.
It does indeed just so happen that both of them are, and basically every free agent the Lakers introduced to the media on Friday also cited Westbrook’s presence alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a factor in their decision to join the team. So while Westbrook still has yet to play his first game, his addition is already paying dividends for the Lakers.