Almost everyone deserves credit for how they’ve handled the Russell Westbrook situation. Darvin Ham has tried to stay positive despite the flawed roster he’s been told to make work. LeBron James extended his Lakers tenure, thus strengthening their position in trying to undo the mistake they made together. Hell, even Westbrook has been mostly professional despite what has to be an incredibly painful spot to be stuck in.
I say almost everyone, though, because Rob Pelinka exists. He’s made excuse after excuse not to address the glaring problem with his roster and made everyone’s lives harder than they have to be. Enough is enough, though. Westbrook clearly isn’t a fit basketball-wise or, frankly in approach to the sport, as he’d rather potentially fake an injury than come off the bench.
There might be valid points to waiting this out. Maybe just maybe an offer comes along that helps the Lakers and doesn’t cost both picks. Maybe more teams fall short of expectations and the market opens up. Maybe a couple teams start winning more than they’re comfortable with and they see trading winning players as the only way to slow that down.
What happens in the meantime matters, though. Asking James and Anthony Davis to keep this clearly sinking boat above water is an insane ask, given the Lakers’ opening schedule, and by the time Pelinka is finally ready to do his job, the season might be too far gone either because of their record or because the lift got too much for those two and they broke down.
Just about everyone involved, from the guys listed in the first graf on through the rest of the organization, have bought into the facade and appear ready to until Westbrook is finally moved, one way or the other — possibly fake hamstring injuries notwithstanding. The longer this drags on, though, the more pronounced the cracks in the veneer become, and the less tenable an already uncomfortable situation becomes.
The worst part here is the only person in this equation who doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day melodrama is, unfortunately, the person who has final say on when this sad train ride can finally end. Pelinka can sit away from everyone and with that distance not feel the strain keeping Westbrook around might put on the rest of this godforsaken roster he put together. He makes as few public appearance as almost any exec in the league. Hell, he doesn’t even have to be shown on the jumbotron at an opening night and thus didn’t hear boos from fans who can’t believe he get an extension this summer.
Pelinka has tried to ignore Westbrook much like a child might stuff a sandwich under their bed rather than have to pause their videogame to eat it. Sure, the approach might work that day, and maybe a couple days afterward, but eventually the smell gets so rancid that an adult walks into the room, notices it, and knows they have to take care of the problem.
Unfortunately, there clearly aren’t any adults who are walking into this room willing or able to tell Pelinka the way he’s handling this just isn’t working. If Jeanie Buss let him back into the room, Jerry West would maybe offer some insight on how best to rip off this bandaid. Perhaps Pat Riley might advise against the old “maybe these problems will go away if we ignore them” approach. But no, all the Lakers have are Kurt Rambis, Magic Johnson and Phil Jackson, who’ve all recently been hilarious failures in a modern league.
That now months-old bologna sandwich will continue to rot under Pelinka’s bed. It’ll sit there as he prays that his two stars stay healthy enough to carry a roster that not a single person who’s watched it actually likes from start to finish of a game. That sandwich, one covered with more than a year’s worth of mold and stinks to high heavens, isn’t going anywhere. That smell has sunk into every piece of fabric in the room and everyone there is stuck plugging their noses until Pelinka, comfortably sitting outside, finally wakes up and earns the extension he so clearly doesn’t deserve.
This week on “The Hook,” I spoke to Aaron about these first couple games. There were some things to like. There are obviously things that need addressing. Is there an inflection point coming this weekend, as one of their few winnable games are upon them? All that and more.
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.