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Thursday, February 09, 2023

Lakers Trade Future Hall of Famer Russell Westbrook Without Improving Their Playoff Chances

The L.A. Lakers need to find a new scapegoat. As part of a three team deal, the Lakers parted ways with Russell Westbrook and acquired Malik Beasley, former Laker D'Angelo Russell, and Jarred Vanderbilt. The Minnesota Timberwolves received Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and three second round draft picks, while the Utah Jazz received Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, Westbrook, and a first round draft pick. The Jazz are expected to reach a buyout agreement with Westbrook, who will then have his choice of potential contenders who would be happy to sign the 2017 regular season MVP for the stretch run. While many media members mindlessly bash Westbrook, I agree with Hubie Brown, who praised Westbrook last season: "You can knock him, you can say you don't like him, but he plays hard and he earns his money every night."

The Jazz are tanking, while the Timberwolves have been disappointing and are not likely to improve dramatically as a result of this deal (though Conley could help stabilize the backcourt), so this article will focus on the Lakers and on how Westbrook has been demonized.

Westbrook did everything that the Lakers asked him to do, including accepting a demotion to a bench role that many lesser players have rejected. If the Lakers were not so awful this season, Westbrook would be a serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He is averaging 15.9 ppg, 7.5 apg (eighth in the league), and 6.2 rpg. His minutes have been slashed from 34.3 mpg last season to 28.7 mpg this season, but on a per minute basis he is exceeding his career norms for assists and rebounding while still demonstrating enough scoring punch to be a 20-plus ppg scorer given sufficient minutes and opportunities. Despite his limited role, he has posted four triple doubles this season. In short, he can still play an all-around game at a high level. He can make a significant contribution for a contending team that utilizes him properly and appreciates the many things that he does well as opposed to focusing on the few things at which he does not excel.

Don't be surprised if Westbrook and his next team make a deeper playoff run this season than the "new and improved" Lakers.

The way that LeBron James' media sycophants are now relentlessly bashing and trashing Westbrook with alleged quotes from an anonymous source is pathetic and shameful. Here is some good life advice for the anonymous source: if you have something to say to someone, say it to that person's face, or at least put your name to your words, and say it before that person has been shipped out of town. If the anonymous source exists, then that person is a coward. Here is some professional advice for people who purport to be journalists: if one person tells you something under cloak of anonymity that is is not credible and not supported by any evidence, the ethical thing to do is either find evidence or not repeat the comment. Alternatively, if your goal is to do public relations work for LeBron James and protect his reputation as his team flounders at the bottom of the standings, then just resign from your journalism job and become a p.r. flack.

If you have followed the NBA at all during Westbrook's career, you know that Westbrook has been a great and beloved teammate, and that players often have their career-best seasons playing alongside him. It is fascinating that the Lakers' habitual underachievement over the past several seasons is being blamed primarily on Westbrook, while the player crowned as supposedly the greatest of all-time is absolved of any responsibility. It is also fascinating that, after setting the NBA's regular season scoring mark on Tuesday, LeBron James literally checked out at winning time as his team lost and that James will not even play tonight. The "pass first" player who purports to be focused on winning championships has made it very clear that his main focus this season was surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the career scoring list; doing so is without question a great accomplishment, but let's not pretend that winning games--let alone winning titles--is James' goal at this stage of his career.

I never went to propaganda school--I mean, journalism school--and I don't have a proprietary "advanced basketball statistic" that I am trying to monetize, but the narratives about the Lakers are puzzling. We are told that the Lakers' biggest need is outside shooting. This season the Lakers rank 26th in three point field goal percentage, so it is true that they do not shoot well beyond the arc--but during their 2020 championship season they ranked 21st in three point shooting. Are we supposed to believe that if they move up to 21st in that category this season they will vault from 13th place in the Western Conference to championship contention? We are told that Westbrook's poor three point shooting has been killing the Lakers. It is true that Westbrook is not a great three point shooter--but the Lakers average 31 three point field goal attempts per game, and their leader in three point field goal attempts (at more than seven per game) is shooting just .315 from three point range, well below the league average (.360) and dragging down the team's percentage to .338. You probably can guess who that misfiring long range gunner is. Somehow, I doubt that anyone is going to tell General Manager/Coach LeBron James that the team might be better off if he attempted fewer three pointers--and I am positive that Mike Wilbon, Dave McMenamin, and Brian Windhorst would slap themselves in the face if they even dreamed of saying or writing something that might result in them losing access to James. Wilbon was on TV today bragging about how "blessed" he has been to have so many one on one interviews with James over the past 20 years.

The 2020 Lakers ranked fourth in points allowed and eighth in defensive field goal percentage. LeBron James was still an energetic defensive player at that time, and Anthony Davis protected the paint as if he were saving his family from a rabid pack of wolves. This season's Lakers rank 28th in points allowed and 17th in defensive field goal percentage--and those critical numbers will not improve unless (1) James cares about defense again for more than just a highlight play or two, (2) Davis remains healthy and plays with any passion, and (3) the trio acquired for Westbrook become defensive stoppers. I'm not sure if the Lakers' three point field goal percentage will improve without Westbrook, but I am confident that unless the defense improves the Lakers will remain a bottom-feeding team.

The notion that D'Angelo Russell is some kind of savior in either the short term or the long term is laughable. Russell epitomizes what Kenny Smith often calls a "looter in a riot," a player who puts up big scoring numbers without impacting winning. Assuming that the Lakers make the playoffs, Russell's playoff career field goal percentage of .349 will obviously be very helpful!

Beasley and Vanderbilt are solid rotation players, but it is bizarre to state with a straight face that trading away a future Hall of Famer who always plays hard for a gunner and two solid rotation players represents a significant upgrade.

There may be many Laker fans who are rejoicing now, but they should take a good look at recent history: none of the teams that Westbrook left improved after his departure--not Oklahoma City, not Houston, and not Washington. It is very unlikely that the Lakers will break that trend. So, congratulations Laker Nation: the front office traded away the scapegoat, and the upside potential for this team if everything breaks right is the sixth seed, while the most likely scenario is limping into the Play-In Tournament and being eliminated before the playoffs begin.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:58 PM



At Friday, February 10, 2023 1:44:00 AM, Blogger Tristan said...


Does that "vampire in the locker room" anecdote told by this so-called reporter meet the threshold of libel? Westbrook, at some point, should sue the pants off ESPN / SI for such a vicious and unwarranted attack that in all likelihood his teammates / coaches / GM never uttered.

I hope that if Westbrook gets bought out by the Jazz, that he signs w/ the Clippers. He has a proven working relationship w/ Paul George, and his energy and professionalism would complement Kawhi's low-key intensity, plus he remains in his hometown. Westbrook would, in my estimation, put the Clips over the top; as a bonus, the battle of LA would truly become must-watch TV.

If somehow he actually plays for Utah, then Westbrook can get back to lifting subpar teams to playoff contention, just like he did in OKC and Washington.

Until the Lakers finally cut ties w/ LeBron, I can't--not even reluctantly--cheer for them anymore. The really bold move out of left field would have been to trade James, especially after he did his passive-aggressive shtick of throwing his teammates under and complaining about not getting Kyrie, then rebuild around Westbrook and Davis.

It's good to see that Westbrook played his heart out till the end, and put up a strong final stat line to end his unfairly maligned tenure in Laker land.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 9:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As an attorney, I can state that the free speech protections in the United States are very robust, and thus the torts of libel/slander/defamation (which each have different, specific definitions) are very difficult to prove in court. A public figure has even less protection than a private figure. In short, I doubt that Westbrook would be successful if he sued the reporter(s) involved in this fiasco--but that does not make their conduct appropriate or ethical. Sad to say, I am not surprised by this situation as a general case, nor am I surprised by the specific people involved. The whole "insider" business is sleazy, as reporters slant their reporting in exchange for being granted access--and a lot of this is done so that we the public have the great privilege of knowing about a trade five minutes before the teams involved issue a press release. I've written about this before--I see no value in "breaking news" that will imminently become public knowledge; this is not life-saving information like "A hurricane is headed for the coast" or "Country A just launched a sneak attack." This is, "Sources tell me that Player A has become a locker room cancer and will soon be traded" five minutes before the teams announce, "Player A has been traded."

LeBron is immune from being traded unless/until his skills significantly decline; he has too much power and popularity, plus his numbers look impressive even if they have not translated into much team success since 2020.

Westbrook will play hard wherever he goes, and he will be valuable if his next team uses him correctly.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So to be clear, you are asserting that the reporters on this article wrote in in exchange for being granted access, and that their conduct was inappropriate and/or not ethical? Is that what you are stating? And that Russell Westbrook would have a legitimate cause of action should he sue them for this behavior, regardless of whether or not he would ultimately be successful?

At Friday, February 10, 2023 5:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I expressed my opinion about how this specific article was written; unless the reporter(s) reveal their sources and methods, they can't prove that their quotes are authentic, nor can I prove how they gathered their information--but I question the veracity of the quote and the timing of the release of the story.

I further stated my general opinion that there is no value for "breaking news" of stories that will be released for public consumption anyway, and that the process of trading access for favorable coverage is likely widespread as part of such transactions. In other words, an anonymous source gives "breaking news" to a reporter one day, and then another day that same anonymous source tells the reporter, "Run this story that we traded Player X because he is a locker room cancer." The reporter has little incentive to fact check the quote or to not run the quote, because doing either would jeopardize his access to "breaking news."

It is my opinion that this process is rife with potential corruption, and does not lead to objective journalism.

I made it clear that I doubt that Westbrook has a legitimate legal cause of action here.

Hypothetically, if he could prove (1) that the quote is false or (2) that the quote is real but that the person who stated it knew it to be a false representation of events AND (3) the reporter knew when printing/repeating the quote that the quote was a false representation of events AND (4) the falsehoods damaged Westbrook's reputation and/or potential income in a quantifiable way, then Westbrook would have a legitimate legal cause of action.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 7:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, so even if you had a reckless (or willing) disregard for the truth and/or falsity of your statement your lack of ability to impact a reputation and/or potential income in a quantifiable way would cushion you from any potential cause of action.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 9:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


A law school professor told us that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, but that doesn't mean the prosecutor will secure a conviction. Similarly, in our justice system you can sue anyone for anything at any time, but that does not mean you will win. In short, there is a low barrier to filing a case, but a higher barrier to prevail.

To prevail in a suit alleging libel or slander or defamation (which each have different definitions, but all involve some form of using words to damage another person's reputation/harming another person's ability to earn money), the plaintiff must not only prove that the statement in question is false but that the publication of the statement caused some type of damage. If no damage resulted, then the court has no means to remedy the situation, because the remedy for libel or slander or defamation is that the defendant provide financial compensation to the plaintiff.

One interesting thing here is that teams such as the Bulls, Clippers, and Heat are reportedly lining up to try to sign Westbrook if Westbrook agrees to a buyout. The fact that there is a market for Westbrook's services would hurt any claim that he has been damaged financially--but that fact also makes it seem likely that the reporter either fabricated the quote out of thin air, or else quoted an unreliable source who has an ax to grind. If Westbrook were a bad teammate, why would playoff teams--including one coached by a former coach of his (Billy Donovan)--be so eager to sign him?

I know from my personal experience covering the league as a credentialed reporter who witnessed firsthand how the sausage is made (or butchered horribly) that many media members said/wrote negative things about Scottie Pippen for various reasons, but that his teammates uniformly spoke highly of him. The same is true of Kobe Bryant. Media members play favorites for a variety of reasons.

I have every reason to think that the biased reporting directed against Pippen and Bryant is now being directed against Westbrook. In fact, I predicted this many years ago, declaring that Westbrook was poised to not only inherit Bryant's position as the NBA's best guard but also as an underrated player saddled with negative reporting: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2014/03/russell-westbrook-inherits-kobe-bryants.html

I don't get all of my predictions right--no one does--but I nailed that one.

At Saturday, February 11, 2023 1:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They weren't winning anything with Westbrook and while Westbrook plays hard on offense, he doesn't play well off the ball and his defense is and has always been inconsistent.

That said, I would like to see him on the Clippers as they need more playmaking.

As for the Lakers, I don't see them making the playoffs and still 1st round fodder at best

At Saturday, February 11, 2023 11:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Whatever they didn't win with Westbrook, I doubt that they will win much more with their ballyhooed acquisitions. If you think that Westbrook's defense is inconsistent, I am curious what you think of LeBron's defense post-2020.

I agree that Westbrook would fill a playmaking need for the Clippers, and I agree that the Lakers are going nowhere fast.

At Wednesday, March 29, 2023 8:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

FYI, Brian Windhorst just publicly apologized for falsely claiming that Houston Coach Stephen Silas cried because he has not been able to reach his team this season (and Windhorst also butchered a stat in the same piece): https://awfulannouncing.com/espn/brian-windhorst-apologizes-correction-rockets-stephen-silas.html

Anyone can get a stat wrong once in a while--though it is less understandable and less forgivable when this happens at a big company that should have a lot of editorial oversight--but falsely claiming that a coach cried because he has cannot reach his team is the kind of thing that can damage a coach's reputation, much like the garbage that Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst regularly shovel on behalf of LeBron (and to harm people like Westbrook).


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