In case it wasn’t obvious enough from head coach Frank Vogel openly admitting that he and the rest of the Lakers coaching staff have “discussed” benching Russell Westbrook with 20 games left to play this season, the experiment of adding the former MVP has gone worse than even the biggest pessimists about the move likely could have predicted.
All of it has led to rumors that Westbrook and the team have mutual interest in a divorce this summer, an idea that was only lent further credence by veteran NBA insider Marc Stein on Saturday.
Stein reported a ton of Lakers intel in his latest Substack column ($$$), but potentially most notable among the various details was yet another leak that Russell Westbrook has been, shall we say, less than open to change during his time in Los Angeles (emphasis mine):
Jousting with reporters in press conferences is apparently not the lone source of pushback these days from under-fire guard Russell Westbrook. There has been no shortage of defiance behind the scenes, I’m told, when coaches and teammates have tried to broach changes in role or approach with the former MVP. For all the obvious complexities involved in trying to move Westbrook when he’s owed a whopping $47 million next season at age 34, one league source described the idea of bringing him back next season as “impossible” based on current tension levels. The question then becomes: If the Lakers can’t construct a palatable trade, do they try to just buy Westbrook out? Or waive and stretch him?
This is, of course, not the first time something like this has been put out there this year. Back in January, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported that Westbrook had been “defensive” when getting feedback in the team’s famously no-holds-barred film sessions, where everyone on the roster has their mistakes highlighted. Additionally, Kendrick Perkins of ESPN — who played with both Westbrook and LeBron James, as well as being coached by current Lakers assistant Phil Handy in Cleveland — said last month that Westbrook had been resistant to the idea of working with Handy, one of the most vaunted skill development coaches the NBA has ever seen.
So whatever one thinks of Westbrook or how much of this season’s struggles are or aren’t his fault, a clear common denominator is that he’s been less flexible and open to doing what is best for the team than he sold himself as being. Both publicly, and behind the scenes when advocating for the Lakers to trade for him. Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times wrote this summer that when Westbrook was selling a partnership to James and Anthony Davis, he “talked about how his only intention was winning and coming back home to Los Angeles to become a champion” and “let James and Davis know he doesn’t mind playing off the ball when James initiates the offense.”
That latter part has proven true, but only if one defines “playing off the ball” as “technically being in the game but mostly just standing around as a non-threat.” Because the reality is that you don’t need leaks or reports from the most plugged-in insiders to see how dysfunctional this has all become, and how poorly it has all worked. You can just look at the court. At this point, one doesn’t need to look much further than there to see how inflexible Westbrook has been. But that we’re getting all these leaks about it throughout the year just shows how much that personal tendency has grated on everyone involved behind the scenes, and is just the latest evidence that both sides are headed for a probably messy split this offseason.