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Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Lakers Banished Russell Westbrook, but the Clippers Brought Westbrook Back to L.A.

Russell Westbrook was traded by the L.A. Lakers to the Utah Jazz, but after agreeing to a buyout with the Jazz he will finish the season back in L.A. with the L.A. Clippers. Not content to use Westbrook as a scapegoat for the Lakers' failures this season, many media members are displaying unseemly--but not surprising--joy in predicting that Westbrook will ruin the Clippers. It has been noted that the oddsmakers have decreased the Clippers' odds of winning the NBA title since the announcement of the Westbrook signing, with the implication that the Las Vegas experts have inside knowledge of how terrible a player Westbrook is. Of course, such a narrative betrays a misunderstanding of how odds function: odds are not predictions of individual or team performance, but rather are calibrated to result in the bets being split as evenly as possible. The gambling pleasure palaces built in Las Vegas and elsewhere are paid for by the vigorish--the cut of the action that the oddsmakers receive. The oddsmakers do not care who wins and are not trying to predict who will win; if the wagered money is split evenly between both sides, the oddsmakers win every time.

The propaganda campaign waged against Westbrook for the last year and a half is going to lose a lot of momentum now that Westbrook is playing for a legitimate NBA franchise that is more likely to utilize him correctly. The Lakers' 2022-23 season has been about two things: (1) making sure that LeBron James breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career regular season scoring record, and (2) making sure that LeBron James is in no way blamed for his team sinking so far in the standings that you might get the bends searching to find them. 

If you read half of what is written about Westbrook, you might think that he is the basketball version of Damien from "The Omen" sent from the depths of Hell to destroy the saintly LeBron James and the angelic L.A. Lakers.

It interesting that Paul George, who had the best season of his career while teaming up with Westbrook in Oklahoma City, openly lobbied for the Clippers to sign Westbrook. If Westbrook is such a horrible teammate and washed up player, why would George--who is the second best player on a potential championship contender--be so eager to play with him?

It is also interesting that Brian Windhorst is so publicly insistent that the Clippers should not make Westbrook their starting point guard. With all of the player movement going on in the NBA recently, why is that particular roster move so important to him? Is Windhorst afraid of how many triple doubles Westbrook might have down the stretch on a team that is trying to win as opposed to a team that is catering to LeBron James' whims? Windhorst understands that each Westbrook triple double--particularly in a Clippers win--refutes the false narrative that he, Dave McMenamin, and others have been spouting about Westbrook.

As we move away from the darkness of anonymous sources bashing Westbrook and toward the light of people who will put their names on their comments, we reach Lonnie Walker IV, who played with Westbrook this season and has nothing but praise for his former teammate:

He keeps things professional. I've never seen him look deterred or upset. And especially for me being with San Antonio and being from the outside in and being like, "Yeah, like Russ what’s going on?" He trippin', he doing this, he doing that. But to be with him…man, he's one of the hardest-working dudes I've been around. And he's probably one of the best teammates I've ever had. That's something that I didn't even expect because of how much the media has influenced and kinda showed what he was.

Every single day, he's asking how everyone is. Whether it's after games and he sees my family and he's talking to my family. Inviting them to get some clothes or whatnot and hang out. He's just a great guy and the thing I learned his intensity…there's nothing like it. He's on it and it’s not something that he switches on and off.

Today, the Clippers have a 33-26 record and are in fourth place in the Western Conference. The 27-32 Lakers are in 13th place in the 15 team Western Conference. Clip and file those numbers. It will be fascinating to see how these teams fare down the stretch. I am not predicting a championship for the Clippers, and with only 23 games remaining it is too easy to just pick the Clippers to finish ahead of the Lakers: if the Clippers go just 12-11 then the Lakers would have to go 18-5 to tie them in the standings. However, I expect that the Clippers will post a better record down the stretch than the highly touted "new and improved" Lakers, and I expect that Westbrook will play well for the Clippers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:47 AM



At Thursday, February 23, 2023 9:24:00 PM, Anonymous Ryan said...

I used to be a Lakers fan (probably more of a Kobe fan to be honest), but the way the team threw Westbrook under the bus, especially leaking these “reports” even after he was already traded, has made me decide I can’t root for the team anymore. Like you said, no other past teams or teammates have spoken ill of Westbrook, and he has already been willing to embrace his bench role and thrive in it (shooting issue notwithstanding, but Lakers knew that’s his weakness), so it’s really beneath the organization and the media “reporters” to hang him out to dry and attack his character. I wish Westbrook finds success with Clippers.

At Thursday, February 23, 2023 10:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The way that the Lakers treated Westbrook was awful, and the way that many media members piled on was despicable. Westbrook is better off now, but it is unfortunate that he had to go through so much nonsense in the past year and a half.

At Friday, February 24, 2023 10:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George also had his worst season over the past 8 seasons with Westbrook, too. And of course he's going to say good things about a new teammate coming over, regardless if it's true or not. Almost everyone does that.

The media is one thing and James is another, but who do you mean by 'the Lakers' when you say they treated Westbrook awful? Front office, players, coaches?

At Friday, February 24, 2023 10:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


George averaged 21.9 ppg in his first season with Westbrook, made the All-Star team and had the second best three point shooting percentage of his career (.401) up to that point. In his second and final season with Westbrook, George averaged 28.0 ppg--still his career-high by nearly 4 ppg--made the All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career, and finished third in MVP voting (he never finished higher than ninth in any other season). So, I am not sure what point you are trying to make, but I am sure that the facts don't support it.

George lobbied for the Clippers to get Westbrook BEFORE Westbrook was signed, so--contrary to what you are implying--this is not an instance of a player speaking highly of a new teammate but rather a player lobbying to acquire a player who has recently been depicted in a very nasty way by many L.A. and national media members.

The Lakers' front office did nothing to contradict the negative media narratives about Westbrook even though those narratives are demonstrably false based on the attributed statements--as opposed to anonymous statements--by Westbrook's teammates and coaches throughout his career. LeBron threw Westbrook under the bus multiple times, including publicly lobbying to acquire Irving when LeBron knew that the only way to acquire Irving would be to trade Westbrook. Also, the coaching staff did a poor job of utilizing Westbrook's skills, because the coaching staff's focus is catering to LeBron's whims, which has been the case for most of LeBron's career other than his time in Miami.

At Friday, February 24, 2023 4:04:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

A perfect storm of Westbrook-bashing formed the second he joined the Lakers. Of course, there is the usual beating he takes from the media regardless of how well he is or isn't playing, which team he is on, or who is teammates are and then that obligatory beating from the media collided with him being the scapegoat for a team centered around LeBron James. It formed this unnaturally petty and vindictive whirlwind of vitriol towards Westbrook where he was being blamed for things that were completely out of his control and even being blamed for flaws that the Lakers had prior to his arrival. Westbrook certainly isn't an elite defender but the serious defense issues that the Lakers have, which is the biggest reason why they have been on a downward trajectory ever since the championship in Orlando, were present well before the Lakers acquired Westbrook. I would not be shocked if part of the reason why the Lakers acquired him was because they knew that the media would blame him for anything that went wrong with the team and I hope that his fresh start with the Clippers makes his maniacal detractors look even more mindless than they already are.

At Friday, February 24, 2023 4:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree. A decade ago, I predicted that Westbrook would inherit Kobe Bryant's mantle as both the NBA's best guard and as a highly criticized player. Both parts of that prediction came true. You are correct that a perfect storm of unfair criticism coalesced after the Lakers traded for Westbrook. Westbrook now has a great opportunity to refute a lot of that unfair criticism just by playing well for the Clippers and helping the Clippers to have a good playoff run.


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