Enough bricks. Enough glares. Enough pouts. Enough is enough.
The Lakers need to trade Russell Westbrook now.
Stop waiting. Stop weighting. Stop posturing. Stop shopping.
The Lakers need to trade Russell Westbrook before his reckless play and divisive personality cost them whatever chance this otherwise feisty team has at a rewarding season.
They can surprise. They can entertain. Their new coach Darvin Ham appears capable of building a new culture that can shake up the Crypt and scare a few people. Believe it or not, they could even make the playoffs.
Yet they can’t do any of this while Westbrook and his clanks and his complaining are allowed to create a sort of mud into which this shiny new car’s back tires are sinking.
They can’t move forward with him. They are eventually going to spin into oblivion because of him. They need him gone now.
Witness their home opener Thursday night against the massively talented Clippers.
The Lakers played hard and smart and fought back from a 16-point deficit to lead by two midway through the fourth quarter.
But Westbrook missed all 11 shots, and they lost.
LeBron James continued to defy time with a double-double, Anthony Davis actually climbed off the floor to score 25, and Lonnie Walker IV introduced himself with 26 points.
But Westbrook missed all six three-point attempts, and they lost.
The outcome was a 103-97 Clippers victory, and, even though Westbrook had five steals including back-to-back swipes during crunch time, the verdict on his involvement was clear.
If he doesn’t play, the Lakers win this game. If he’s not on this team, the Lakers win this game.
All of this happened in the same week Westbrook publicly questioned the Lakers’ concern for their players’ health, claiming he tweaked a hamstring in the final preseason game because — gasp — he had to come off the bench.
The situation is untenable off the court, a complete mess on the court, and who knows what kind of somersaults are occurring in everyone’s heads?
The Lakers need to trade Russell Westbrook now.
Don’t wait until they can get more value for him from a tanking team. Don’t wait for somebody who won’t demand two first-round draft picks. Don’t wait to further showcase his abilities, because Thursday night the entire NBA saw what a nightmare this has become, and the Lakers must cut their losses and rip off the bandage and let the wound naturally heal.
How bad has it become? A guy on the other bench was openly feeling sorry for him.
Paul George, a Clipper and former Westbrook teammate with Oklahoma City, said it was obvious Westbrook was in the wrong place.
“It’s hard when you’ve got the pressure they’re putting on him here,” said George. “Quite frankly … it’s not geared for him with the roster they have as well.”
George sees what everybody sees, that after last season’s horrific homecoming, Westbrook doesn’t seem to want to be here anymore.
“I just want him to keep having that joy, keep having that excitement, that fun — that’s what makes him special, the fact that he can do that on a nightly basis,” said George. “I hate to see that it doesn’t look like it’s there for him. But, you know, hopefully in the end, it works out for him in his favor.”
They trade him now, he works out in everybody’s favor. The Lakers can pick up the shooters they so desperately need. Westbrook can play in the new surrounding he desperately needs. The only loser will be the Lakers’ dwindling cache of draft capital, but it’s not worth surrendering this season for the future, especially since James still looks strong and Davis might finally be tougher and keeping Westbrook is the equivalent of waving a white flag.
Give Westbrook credit for facing the media in front of his corner locker after Thursday night’s embarrassment, although he spoke for only 2 minutes and 20 seconds while he answered in his usual terse tones.
How would you assess your game tonight?
“Solid, played hard, all you can ask for,” he said. “Go on to the next one.”
That’s pretty much the extent of his comments, almost as if he had already adopted the advice James said he would give him after a night like this.
“Just flush it down the toilet,” James said. “We’ve all had bad shooting nights. I’ve had bad shooting nights. Everybody in this league has had bad shooting nights. Who cares? I thought he played a great game. Defensively he was in tune. He was locked in. He pushed the tempo. He just didn’t make any shots and that’s OK.”
James has to be nice to Westbrook, he’s the one who convinced the Lakers to trade two championship pieces—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma—to the Washington Wizards for him.
Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, is also responsible for this wretched bit of casting, as he listened to James and decided against trading for shooter Buddy Hield and acquired Westbrook instead. How would this team look if Pelinka had just followed his initial instincts?
Interestingly, the one person who carries the least amount of blame for the trade is Westbrook himself. Yet much of what has happened since is on him.
He’s failed to integrate himself into a new system. He’s lashed out at fans. He’s been surly with the media.
And then, in the postgame news conference after Tuesday’s season-opening loss at Golden State, he recklessly accused the team of causing his hamstring injury because they … benched him?
“Absolutely,” he said, claiming that the preseason benching altered his pregame routine, which put his hamstring at risk.
“Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose,” he said. “For me, obviously the way I play the game, it’s fast-paced, quick, stop-and-go. And I just happened to, when I subbed in, felt something … definitely something I wasn’t used to … wasn’t warm enough.”
Ham heard it, and he wasn’t hearing it.
“Well first and foremost, let me be clear with this: The Lakers, myself, my staff, we would in no way, shape or form put a player or an employee in harm’s way … physically, mentally spiritually … we don’t stand for that … we’re not about that … that’s not who we are,” Ham said Thursday afternoon. “Second of all, Russ and I have discussed what was out there. Brief discussion. We moved on, we got an understanding. And again, as the coach of this team, we’re going to do what’s best for our team to be as successful as it can be. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
Westbrook has been in the starting lineup both games this season, and now some are wondering if the Lakers aren’t bowing to his outrageous accusations. All of this places pressure on a new coach who appears to be an old-school basketball soul with solid credibility and a bright future.
Keeping Westbrook is unfair to Ham. It’s unfair to the team. It’s unfair to the fans. It’s even unfair to Westbrook.
Before the game, new Lakers guard Patrick Beverley took the microphone and delivered the annual home opening address while issuing a guarantee.
“It’s going to be a helluva year this year,” he shouted. “We’re going to the playoffs!”
Only if they trade Russell Westbrook.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.