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Does Russell Westbrook looking better off the bench change anything for him and the Lakers?

Russell Westbrook deserves credit for finally accepting a bench role. It makes the Lakers a better team, but does it change anything for the trajectory he and the organization are on?

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Russell Westbrook deserves all the credit he’s received for moving to the bench and committing more fully to the small things that help his team win. Doing so amid whatever this last season and change has been can’t possibly have been easy, especially since he and everyone around him knows he’s still likely to be traded sooner rather than later. But that’s the thing: Even given the success he’s enjoyed in that role, it still feels like a final, slightly more optimistic chapter at the end of a novel about the apocalypse.

Rob Pelinka, even by professional sports executive standards, does not offer straightforward statements. His book quotes have become incredible fodder for jokes online for a reason and yet even he was fairly clear at his presser on media day that his intention was to move Westbrook.

The part that I can’t balance is that Westbrook is very much the best — if not only — way for this clearly imbalanced roster to be improved. Also, the Lakers don’t win Sunday night against Denver without his impact off of the bench. Now, perhaps one of the Lakers’ other 37 guards can slide into that role and make a somewhat similar impact, or maybe they wouldn’t need as much help off the bench with a starting lineup as productive as it could be with Myles Turner and Buddy Hield in it, but that doesn’t change what he brought to the table playing the way he did.

Still, we know how this ends. It’s been too toxic for too long for any other resolution than a trade to be considered a possibility. It’s great that he may have done enough to convince someone else he might accept this role on their team for the minimum and that perhaps might have extended his career, but his days with the Lakers are still very much numbered.

The sad part is this glimpse of him playing off the bench might actually make us wonder moving forward what could’ve been. How different would things be now if the Lakers knew what role he might’ve accepted and how differently would they have built the roster if they didn’t know a trade was coming at some point? The way things have gone is the darkest timeline and seeing him welcome this move kind of makes me wonder if this outcome might have been avoidable.

But maybe, in the end, that’s all this is. Kind of like a breakup where in the final days both parties give it a real go all the while kind of, sort of, knowing it’s been over for a while. The best thing they can do in that moment is to enjoy those bright spots before going their separate ways, before they return to the old habits that made them want to split in the first place. In this case, it’s the Lakers and Westbrook who, despite this brief glimmer of hope, should probably rip the bandaid off and pretend they’ll be friends moving forward.

This week on “The Anthony Irwin Show,” I spoke to Jovan Buha of The Athletic about Sunday night and the moments after the game, which felt pretty telling in their own ways, as Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis reacted to the Lakers’ first win of the season. They also discuss the wild Myles Turner interview in which he all but outright asks the Lakers to trade for him and what substance James dumped on Darvin Ham to celebrate his first career win as a head coach.

You can listen to the full episode below, and to make sure you never miss a show, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Podcasts.

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.

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