Russell Westbrook has apparently been spending pregame huddles away from the team from the beginning of his career. Recent videos showing him doing that shouldn’t be a story, according to Westbrook, because of that years-long habit. It doesn’t work like that, though, because last season happened, no matter how badly Rob Pelinka and the Lakers wish fans would forget.
From the very beginning of this offseason, my analysis of the personnel decisions hinged on, “well surely at some point they’ll finally trade Westbrook.” Even as we got reports on how Darvin Ham was looking forward to using Westbrook or that he had permission to bench him if it wasn’t working, my takeaway has consistently been that there’s simply no way they could possibly go through with any of that.
Yet there we went, deeper and deeper into the offseason with Westbrook on the roster, until finally, LeBron James’ unofficial minicamp was being planned. And then training camp followed one of the more awkward media days of my lifetime. Then finally, preseason games started and there was Westbrook.
To everyone’s credit, they’ve handled things about as professionally as anyone could’ve hoped for, in their own ways. But you just knew eventually things were going to come to a head.
Whether that took place Wednesday night when Westbrook stood 30-something feet away from the team’s pregame huddle, when Patrick Beverley was trying to get him to participate in a quick chat with his other teammates on the court, or after the game finished with Westbrook having attempted only three shots doesn’t really matter.
The story here is that the Lakers thought, for some insane reason, this wouldn’t be a story.
OF COURSE fans noticed Westbrook off to the side, away from the rest of the team. You’re goddamn right confirmation bias has played a part in analyzing anything and everything that happens from timeout to timeout. This was always how this was going to go.
And again, this all comes back to Pelinka’s continued belief that portions of an offseason take place in a vacuum that never has to mesh with decisions that either precede or follow them. Basketball doesn’t work like that. This isn’t baseball, a raw combination of individual performances that get tallied up after nine innings to decide a winner. Basketball is a meal, where each bite is some combination of ingredients that all have to work together to collectively inspire one’s palette.
I love shrimp as much as the next guy, but Pelinka has put together the basketball equivalent of shrimp cocktail, followed by scampi, with a side of coconut shrimp and a shrimp gumbo dessert.
The overlap on this menu has always pointed to a move everyone knew the Lakers had to make but here I am, stuffing even more fried shrimp into my face because the chef overloaded on what he thought was a market inefficiency.
All this could — and should — have been avoided. The very first move this offseason should have been trading Westbrook so the rest of the offseason wouldn’t have to be an attempt at retro-fitting talent to a hypothetical deal. Look at the roster as it stands right now and try to tell me it wasn’t put together with an eventual Westbrook trade in mind. You can’t. Hell, Pelinka couldn’t at his lone press conference this summer and for good reason — the roster doesn’t make any sense.
So yeah, I completely understand why Westbrook would roll his eyes when asked about fans’ reactions to something he’s done his entire career. Of course it’s frustrating to show up for work knowing your boss and teammates are all just waiting until some team lowers their standard to a point where they’re willing to bring you in because they think you improve their chances at landing Victor Wembanyama.
As frustrating as all that most assuredly is, fans on Twitter hyper-analyzing those clips shouldn’t draw Westbrook’s ire. No, if he wants someone to lash out at here, it’s clearly Pelinka, who continues to operate as if these decisions in a vacuum can simply be combined with no mind paid to each move’s impact on the next.
Last year happened. It was a low point in Lakers history that should have been remedied as the top priority this offseason. Pelinka failed to do so, and now this stupidity surrounding where Westbrook stands in preparation for a game is just the latest impossible situation the Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations has personally created.
I discussed all this with Harrison Faigen on yesterday’s “Lakers Lounge,” plus our thoughts on Jeanie Buss’ comments about her inner circle and this impossible math problem Darvin Ham is facing because of Pelinka’s inability to fill out a roster.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.