Whereas Russell Westbrook spent the primary decade of his profession with the Oklahoma City Thunder, maturing from first-round decide to All-Star to league MVP, the considered returning to Los Angeles sometime to play for his hometown Lakers appeared additional and farther from actuality.
“Being from L.A., you all the time want which you can play to your dwelling group and have the ability to try this,” Westbrook stated Tuesday at his introductory information convention with the Lakers at Staples Middle. “However that is positively one thing that all the time form of circled round in my thoughts. And possibly at some point. However I might all the time come again and be like, ‘Ahh, that in all probability will not occur.'”
As unbelievable because it may need appeared when he turned the primary participant since Oscar Robertson to common a triple-double for a season and stabilized the Thunder group after Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook joined his third group previously three years since leaving the Thunder. He has been a Houston Rocket, a Washington Wizard and is now a Laker, holding up a purple-and-gold No. 0 uniform on the finish of the day’s festivities.
“It is surreal,” the Lengthy Seaside, California, native stated. “I believe it nonetheless hasn’t hit me but, being from L.A., rising up not too removed from right here and having the ability to watch the parades — attempt to go to them, attempt to miss college to attempt to go to them. Being a Laker fan and being from L.A., however now all the pieces coming full circle for me.”
Westbrook stated that as of a few weeks in the past, a return to L.A. nonetheless appeared unlikely, with two years and $91 million nonetheless owed to the 32-year-old combo guard. However a dialog with LeBron James, whom he described as a buddy earlier than he is a teammate, began to alter issues.
“These things occurred so rapidly, all of this occurred so quick, the final two weeks or so,” Westbrook stated. “However we have had temporary conversations and talked about clearly what we have to do, what we have to do.”
L.A. traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and its 2021 first-round decide to Washington for Westbrook on draft day final month, step one in what turned out to be a close to full overhaul from final 12 months’s roster that misplaced within the first spherical of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns.
“I believe it was a possibility to make an aggressive transfer that we felt bettered our chance to convey the 18th title to the Los Angeles Lakers,” stated group vice chairman of basketball operations and basic supervisor Rob Pelinka. “This was a possibility to maximise the flexibility to do what we’re obsessed to do and that is to convey an 18th title to this metropolis.”
Two of the titles the Lakers earned got here at Westbrook’s expense. Kobe Bryant and L.A.’s run to the 2010 ring began with a first-round win over Westbrook’s Thunder. James and the Lakers’ bubble championship in 2020 included beating Westbrook’s Rockets within the second spherical.
Whereas Westbrook by no means performed with Bryant exterior of the Olympics and All-Star Video games, he felt a kinship with the late, nice Lakers guard.
“It hasn’t left my head. Issues that we talked about — me and him — simply the potential of me having the ability to be a Laker, understanding what that entails,” he stated. “It is simply loopy to consider, and that will likely be with me each time I put that Laker jersey on.”
Pelinka, who was Bryant’s agent and shut buddy, recalled fondly that Westbrook was on the brief listing of gamers whom his former consumer believed to embody the “Mamba Mentality.”
“The preliminary factor that form of introduced us collectively was having the ability to compete and never having the ability to take nights off,” Westbrook stated of Bryant.
And the Lakers’ addition of Westbrook ought to enable James — who’s getting into his nineteenth season and can flip 37 in December — to take among the load off his shoulders.
“Bron is among the greatest gamers to play this recreation, and his capacity to have the ability to form of do all the pieces on the ground permits me to have the ability to simply determine it out,” stated Westbrook, who led the league in assists final 12 months. “I am coming to a championship-caliber group and my job is to make it possible for I can make his recreation simpler for him, and I am going to discover methods to try this all through the sport.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel joined Westbrook and Pelinka at Tuesday’s occasion and declared that L.A. would grow to be an “extraordinarily dynamic, fast-breaking group” with Westbrook added to the fold with James and Anthony Davis. And Vogel downplayed any match points between the trio as a result of they’re “all make-the-right-play gamers.”
Westbrook, flanked on the occasion by his father, Russ, his mom, Shannon, and his brother, Ray, made one factor abundantly clear, nonetheless: His match with the town of Los Angeles could not be higher.
“Simply having the ability to be with my children on a regular basis, having the ability to see my mother and pa and my spouse on a regular basis is to me the very best factor you may ask for,” he stated. “Being again dwelling.”