Heading into this season, a common question facing the Los Angeles Lakers was: Would Russell Westbrook's performance in the playoffs help or hurt his team's chances of winning an 18th NBA championship?
Moot. After the Lakers' 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday officially eliminated them from playoff contention with three games to go, the biggest query facing Westbrook — and perhaps the franchise — is whether the nine-time All-Star will even be on the Lakers next season.
Westbrook's top-line numbers this year are solid (18/8/7), and he's played 78 games. But, he was unable to deliver wins when LeBron James or Anthony Davis sat out — the precise reason he was acquired. In all, LeBron, AD, and Russ suited up only 21 times together. The Lakers won 11 of those.
Westbrook wants to run it back and see what the Lakers could do with improved health.
“That's the plan, but nothing is promised,” Russ said. “Like I said all season long: you gotta play the cards you're dealt. Yes — we want to be able to see what that looks like, what that entails over the course of an 82-game season. But we're not sure if that's guaranteed neither. So, I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something in the future.”
The Lakers shopped Westbrook at the trade deadline, and will likely do so again this summer. The 33-year old is set to make $47 million in 2022-23, but the fact that his contract is expiring and the Lakers are now eligible to trade their 2029 first-round pick renders a deal more feasible. Westbrook has played for four teams over the past four seasons.
Beyond all the injuries and losing, Westbrook's first season for his hometown team got ugly; defined by clanked bank shots, missed layups, awkward schematic fits, all framed around a catastrophic trade. Russ was benched in crunch time on a handful of occasions, repeatedly got booed at home, and admitted he didn't want his family coming to home games.
Despite all of that negativity, Westbrook — who often credits faith and family with helping him stay positive and keep perspective — described this failed season as a learning experience.
“Honestly, me personally, it's a situation that I was just blessed to be able to be in,” he said. “Learned a lot about a lot of different things within myself. I was able to just stay real faithful and true to what I believe in, regardless of what was ever thrown our way, or my way.
“I'm covered,” he stated, when asked what he's learned. “I am super-blessed and grateful. Regardless of whatever is thrown my way, I'm covered by the protection of faith … I can always prevail and get through it.”