Russell Westbrook has been a lightning rod of criticism since he came to the Lakers. An underwhelming performance on the court paired with his general attitude is not conducive to winning over fans when things are not going well.
In his defense, he has become a rather easy target because of his demeanor even though he is not responsible for the number of mistakes the Lakers front office has made. But just when you start to make a case for Westbrook, he gives a quote like the one from postgame on Tuesday that draws him right back into the crosshairs.
After being a game-time decision, Westbrook played — and started — in Tuesday’s season-opener against the Warriors. He entered the contest as a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason finale against the Kings.
An injury he accredits to...not starting?
Russell Westbrook said he “absolutely” believes that coming off the bench against Sacramento contributed to him tweaking his hamstring in that game. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight,” he said. “Honestly I didn’t even know what to do pregame.”— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 19, 2022
On the surface, it’s some very odd reasoning, to say the least. But it’s not a rationale that is entirely out of nowhere from Westbrook.
Last season, Westbrook missed time with a back injury around the trade deadline. At that time, Westbrook cited long stints on the bench, notably in the fourth quarter when he was getting benched by Frank Vogel, as the reason for his back soreness.
And, to be honest, there’s probably some logic here. Athletes are creatures of habit and he’s played one type of way when it comes to preparing for NBA games for over a decade. Physically, there would be something of an adjustment.
Now, having said all that, I mean, come on.
Russ isn’t the first person to ever transition from starting to the bench. Trainers both personal and with the team, literally exist to help him physically if this was a problem. Or teammates exist that literally have come off the bench, some for their whole careers.
It’s a comment that feels so out of touch, even if that’s far from what Russ is. Maybe that’s what makes the quote so startling. It just feels bizarre. Especially when he has quotes about sacrifice and being a team player.
When it was decided he would come off the bench for the final preseason game, Darvin Ham told reporters Russ was willing to help however he could.
“He totally understood,” Ham said. “He totally looked me in my eye and said, ‘Yeah, Coach, whatever you need me to do.’”
To give that quote and then follow it up less than a week later saying coming off the bench caused his hamstring injury, it doesn’t work. Those two things can’t go hand-in-hand.
Again, Russ isn’t the only reason the Lakers struggled since he arrived, even if he isn’t an innocent bystander either. But when he gives quotes like this, it makes him a rather easy scapegoat for the ire of fans.