LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook never jelled on the court the way they envisioned when the three future Hall of Famers had repeated conversations about teaming up last summer. Ultimately, Westbrook convinced LeBron and AD that he would adapt his game to benefit his hometown team, which persuaded the two Klutch clients to push the front office to strike a last-minute deal for Westbrook on draft night.
After one season, the trade looks like one of the most damaging in NBA history.
The outgoing package for Westbrook bankrupted the team’s depth. Westbrook’s salary ($91 million for two years) hamstrung the cap sheet. The combination of both severely restricted their trade flexibility.
However, none of that would have mattered had they figured out the basketball fit and contended for a championship.
Instead, the Westbrook experience proved disastrous. Yes, he played in 78 games, but he refused to change his style of play to mesh with LeBron, AD, and, especially, Frank Vogel. He didn’t commit to moving off-ball, setting screens, playing defense, or the intangibles that winning players exude. In general — based on various reports of behind-the-scenes tension and his public comments to the media — Westbrook has failed to accept his decline from superstardom.
At the trade deadline, LeBron and Klutch reportedly acknowledged the failed experiment and pushed the front office to ship Westbrook (and a first-round pick) to the Houston Rockets for Klutch client John Wall. The Lakers opted to ride out the storm.
At exit interviews on Monday, LeBron spoke on his experience with Westbrook — who is under contract through 2022-23 and wants to return but is expected to be traded or waived. As he has all year, James focused on Westbrook’s availability and effort.
“I don’t put any expectations on anything,” he said. “It’s all about coming in, putting in the work, and go from there. One thing about Russ that I love and will always love, is just his competitive spirit, what he brings to the game every night. And when you’re in a profession when so many injuries happen, and so many things go on, to have a guy that’s reliable, who can put on the uniform every single night, that’s something I respect out of everything. I’m not gonna sit here and make decisions for the front office and things of that nature, but I love being a teammate of Russ.”
LeBron again blamed their chemistry issues on the fact that they played a mere 21 games together.
“I mean, at the end of the day, the reason why we were not very good together is we weren’t on the damn floor together,” LeBron stated. “That is the No. 1 thing. I mean, how many games did we play together? We played, what, a quarter of the season together? … I played more games with my high school teammates in a season, and we only played 27 games. So there it is.”
For what it’s worth, the Lakers went 11-10 in those 21 games and posted a negative net rating (-3.5) when their three stars shared the floor.