Pride often serves as a roadblock on the path toward success and the Lakers have exemplified that multiple times over this season. On the court, an unwillingness by Russell Westbrook to accept a new role has led to a lack of success for both him individually and the team as a whole.
Away from the court, an unwillingness by Rob Pelinka and the front office to admit they got it wrong by bringing in Westbrook is only setting the Lakers back with each passing day.
At the trade deadline, the Lakers opted not to part ways with Westbrook, choosing instead to keep future assets like their 2027 first round draft picks and potentially Talen Horton-Tucker rather than attaching them to Westbrook to dump his salary. But their lack of movement at the deadline may not have been solely because they did not want to include future assets and instead may have involved an inability to give up on the idea of Westbrook this season.
On Tuesday, Ramona Shelburne appeared on the “Brian Windhorst & the Hoop Collective” podcast alongside Dave McMenamin to discuss the Lakers. On top of the pair reporting the Lakers did not do a deal for Christian Wood because of luxury tax implications, Shelburne also revealed some insight into the Lakers thoughts on Westbrook and their unwillingness to “pull the ripcord” on his time in Los Angeles.
“But I think the Lakers are not ready to pull the ripcord on that Russell Westbrook experiment. I think they feel like the team, the coach, the coaching staff, everybody has not done enough to say this isn’t going to work. Russell Westbrook is a future Hall of Famer. There are different ways that he can be used.
By the way, some of this is on Russ, too. Russ can still change more, too. But I think they feel like they gave up so much to get him and he is a really talented player if used correctly and he has not been used in any kind of way he’s comfortable with or has been used or been good before. We can argue forever about whose fault it is. I would say it’s a lot of both. Some of it’s just reality. You’re playing with LeBron now and it’s a different setup for him than he’s ever been in. I think they just feel like you can’t keep changing all the time and especially…change for change’s sake. That’s some of the phrasing I’ve heard. ‘Let’s not make a change to make a change. Let’s make a change when we know it’s going to make us a lot better.’”
For front office figures to find success in the NBA and across sports, there’s a high level of self-belief required. Pelinka showed that in winning an NBA title, but that belief may be a double-edged sword right now.
From the outside looking in, it’s abundantly clear that things are not going well and likely not salvageable between Westbrook, head coach Frank Vogel and the Lakers. Save for a complete change of face from one of those parties — most likely Westbrook — after the All-Star break, the conclusion has long been written for the Lakers this season.
Perhaps Pelinka and the front office could have changed the direction of the season, cut bait on Westbrook and tried something else, like perhaps John Wall. Instead, they’re sticking with something that almost certainly looks broken for reasons that are unclear, whether it be pride or self-belief or something else.
The end result is the Lakers are left looking like a franchise lacking self-awareness as the rest of the basketball world looks on at what appears glaringly obvious.