When the Lakers signed Thomas Bryant this offseason, it was a gamble that the big man would refind his pre-injury form. It wasn’t a particularly big gamble, as it was a veteran’s minimum contract, but Bryant’s role was expected to be a big one if things played out ideally.
Even the best-case scenarios, though, likely didn’t plan for this level of production from Bryant. With Anthony Davis out, Bryant has ascended and not just kept the Lakers competitive but has kept them winning. It’s been quite the story for a number of reasons, none bigger than how far Bryant has come since suffering a torn ACL a little more than two years ago.
On the team and the court when Bryant suffered the injury was Russell Westbrook. In a recent piece with Dan Woike of the LA Times, Bryant and Westbrook each detailed the big role the latter has played in helping the former recover.
His anterior cruciate ligament was torn, the 6-foot-10 center’s season over and the momentum he’d been building over the previous two seasons with the Wizards violently skidded to a stop.
Westbrook knew he had a job to do.
“I had to show him support, instill that the process starts the next day of changing your mindset to get ready for a comeback,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of what happened [to your knee], that’s over with. Yeah, you’re going to be pissed about it. But now, the process starts.”
Westbrook’s reputation as a great teammate is a lengthy one, and this is just another example. The two were only teammates for the one season in Washington — meaning Westbrook came in, saw his new teammate go down 10 games into the season, and immediately knew he needed to help him.
Bryant took the words of wisdom from Westbrook and applied them to his game on and off the court. That advice has been something that he has relied on in the years since.
The return to this level of effectiveness is, at least in a small part, because of Bryant’s time in Washington with Westbrook — a player he identified with because of the former MVP’s consistent attacking energy.
“What he used to tell me was to always stay prepared and always train like it was for a game,” Bryant said. “One thing I took from him was the amount of preparation he did, whether it was before practice, after practice, before games and after games. He always took great, great care of his body. And that’s what I always got from him too. The recovery needs to be … as much as you do out there on the court, you need to recover as much as you can as well.”
For all the frustrating aspects of Russ’ game on the court, there are no complaints about the type of teammate he is off the court. Much of it he does behind the scenes, like buying Frank Vogel a bottle of champagne for his anniversary. It’s easily the most admirable aspect of him and one that deserves more focus.
Any role he played in helping Bryant make his return is a huge boost not just for the Lakers, but for Bryant personally. It’s another notch in the belt for Russ as a teammate, and it’s a pleasure to see Bryant back to his best on the court.