When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Lakers for the second half of this season, there was a great weight of expectation and promise running throughout the organization, but sadly it hasn’t quite worked out as the fans, the Lakers, and Westbrook himself have had their hopes dashed with a surprisingly weak showing for the team and their new team mate.
And it all started with such promise as it appeared that the team’s general manager, Rob Pelinka, had conducted a great move in the off-season (especially when coupled with the additions of other top talents such as Carmelo Anthony) by bringing in Westbrook in the hope of giving the team something of a much-need boost.
The Los Angeles Lakers, like even their most stalwart supporters, felt that last season was something of a bust. Though they had made it to the postseason, things took a bad turn almost immediately when they crashed out at the first hurdle with a 2-4 loss to the Phoenix Suns. The capture of Westbrook and others led to sportsbooks nationwide backing the Crypto.com Arena side as second only to the Brooklyn Nets in the betting when the move was first announced.
However, things look a lot different now, just a few weeks later, as you’d notice if you look at the data-driven odds comparison service provided by Sidelines, and you’ll see that Frank Vogel’s side is now (+3000) to clinch the NBA title, which are hardly hands-on-favourite odds and represents quite a fall from grace that matches the team’s actual performance on the field.
This isn’t entirely a new or shocking development. Westbrook has dipped in and out of form and though when he’s on form, he’s truly hard to beat, his inconsistency was a risk for the Lakers that most people overlooked. And when both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been out of the side, Vogel clearly had great hope that despite his spotty record, the nine-time NBA All-Star would step up to the plate to pick up some of the slack, but he sadly very much hasn’t.
With all that promise, we are now at the stage whereby The Lakers are now 26-31 and staring elimination in the face. If they are fortunate, they may just be able to sneak into the playoffs via the ‘play-in’ tournament, but even that doesn’t seem likely given their poor form of late. Not even making the playoffs would be a huge blow for arguably the most famous team in the entire NBA, but that’s the way things are currently looking.
And while it’s hardly fair to lay all the blame on one man’s shoulders in what is, after all, a team sport, Westbrook’s form has been such an abject disappointment that many had predicted the Lakers would look to move him on as quickly as humanly possible. And yet, the trade deadline has been and gone, and he’s still there in the thick of it. Clearly the Lakers’ management still has some hope that Westbrook will find his mojo once again and live up to the player everyone knows he can be.
Whether boosted by this act of faith or by his own shame on not living up to his best, Westbrook himself is also hoping to get back to his usual form in the run-in, stating with a certain amount of positivity in a recent video conference:
“I’m looking forward to getting into the [All-Star] break, getting ready to make a splash run, and that we’re moving in the direction we need to as a team, collectively and making sure that we try to put our best foot forward as a collective group,”
While it’s all well and good to have hope, though, sometimes that boundless optimism needs to be grounded in reality. And the reality of the situation is simple: if it wasn’t for LeBron James’ exceptional showing – and make no mistake, as per usual, the veteran has been in excellent form throughout this season – then the Lakers would have been out of the picture long ago.
LeBron is only one man, though. The whole point of bringing in Westbrook in the first place was to help shoulder the burden that rests so heavily on LeBron, and thus far, that simply isn’t happening.
Still, the former Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, and Washington Wizards man is aware of how much he has literally let the side down and, in a real show of perhaps unearned bravado, he is clearly looking to change the frame of mind of those around him;
“We got some clarity on a few things that we can put down and go use when we see it on the floor,” Westbrook added, “but good practice overall for our group. And obviously, we know what we gonna have and how we’re moving forward as a group. And that’s that.”
With only 25 games left in the regular season, there really isn’t much wiggle room for the Lakers to play around with. They are, frankly speaking, on something of a razor’s edge at this present moment. All it will take is another serious dip and it will mean a quite definitive “game over” for the team, with little of a solid return without some major personnel changes.
With this much riding on it, it will certainly be interesting to see if the real Westbrook is ready to finally make an entrance as a Lakers man and finally do what he promised to do at the outset. Should he fail at this, the consequences will be dire for him every bit as much as the team itself. He may be a nine-time NBA all-star but past performances only count for so much.
While his lackluster showing with the Lakers may just be the case of a mix of bad luck and not quite being able to integrate into a new team on such short notice, but that probably isn’t how the deciders at the NBA will look at it.