Russell Westbrook found a home with the LA Clippers after the trade deadline, playing some of the best basketball he has in years. The former MVP was especially effective during his new team's short-lived playoff run, ably picking up ample offensive slack left by injuries to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard while serving as a true impact defender.
The Clippers, no surprise, are reportedly hoping Westbrook re-signs this summer. No matter where he plays going forward, though, it's pretty safe to say the veteran point guard will be better off than he was during an ill-fated tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.
J.R. Smith addressed that dynamic over the weekend, telling Brandon ‘Scoop' Robinson he was pleased to see Westbrook thrive with the Clippers after his stint as a Laker proved disastrous.
“I understand what he was going through. Given the passion that he has for the game and then seeing people around you who are supposed to be ‘the closest to you' and your teammates and your organization, kind of flip on you, and then the fan base…He's a LA guy. He's from LA. I'm pretty sure he grew up a Lakers fan,” Smith lamented. “So to have that type of experience with your home team, with your home city is really tough. Fortunately, I'm happy to see him go to the Clippers and have the success he's had. Now he's still able to have some type of reputable space when it's all said and done and all over. When he's not playing anymore he went to a better situation than where he was at.”
JR Smith: “I understand what [Westbrook] was going through. Seeing people around who are supposed to be ‘the closest to you,’ your teammates and organization kind of flip on you, and then the fanbase… it’s really tough pic.twitter.com/Tez12uSzcH
— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) May 6, 2023
Lakers fans quickly turned on Westbrook upon his acquisition in summer 2021, deriding his missed shots at home with jeers of ‘Westbrick' and openly booing him. Westbrook's family even took the brunt of some criticism, leading him to publicly call out Lakers faithful.
Reports indicate LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who helped engineer his trade from the Washington Wizards, didn't exactly make Westbrook's time wearing purple-and-gold much easier.
Smith knows how difficult it can be to play with James. The pair are friends and won a title together in 2016, but who could forget the lambasting Smith received for his infamous gaffe in the waning moments of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, marring one of the greatest performances of James' career?
Resonating more with Smith than any perils of being James' teammate, though, was the harsh treatment Westbrook received from hometown fans—a lot like the type Smith got from New York Knicks fans earlier in his career.
“Being booed at home is a really tough thing. I got booed at the Garden; I'm from Jersey. I understand that, I know that and it's hard,” Smith said. “But the end of the day, Russ is a competitor and I don't think he really pays attention to too much outside noise. If you know the game and you've been around the game, I think he was way more of a respect for it. But if you don't I don't even really think he cares, honestly.”
Smith turned his career around after leaving the Knicks in 2014. Here's hoping Russell Westbrook's trajectory continues on that similar path as his time with the Lakers gets further in the rearview mirror.