By now, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are tired of all the free agency rumors which never turn out to be true. Every year, there is wild speculation that every top player in the league wants to join the Lakers. Sophisticated fans are no longer fooled: they know the Lakers are not in a position to sign any big name free agents at this time and must build a new foundation from the ground up.
But then Kevin Durant shocked the basketball world and leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, which will likely ignite rumors about Russell Westbrook’s future in OKC. Let the speculation begin.
For the past eight years, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been the league’s dynamic duo: Durant and Westbrook; Westbrook and Durant. They got very close to a championship multiple times, including this past season when they were up three games to one on the Warriors only to lose in the Western Conference Finals. There was reason to believe that next year would be their time, but Durant has abandoned ship, and the obvious question is, what happens to Westbrook who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer?
It is inconceivable that Durant left the Thunder without having a heart-to-heart conversation with Westbrook about his future plans. One theory is that Westbrook indicated his plans on leaving when he gets the chance, which might partially explain why Durant left now. Either way, with Durant gone, it’s hard to imagine Westbrook sticking around Oklahoma City.
If Westbrook leaves, there will be many teams interested in his services, and the question will again be posed, why would he even consider coming to the Lakers who are realistically years away from becoming a championship contender? The Lakers have been rebuffed by every top free agent the past two years, and things bottomed out this past week when Durant, Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, and DeMar DeRozan would not even meet with the team.
That said, if there is any top NBA player zany enough to choose the Lakers right now it might very well be Westbrook. He is always in attack mode and always playing at warp speed. He makes mistakes but keeps coming. You may beat him, but he’s going down with the ship. He is delusional enough to think he can carry the Lakers back by himself, and more importantly, he may very well look forward to the challenge.
In a nutshell, Westbrook is Kobe Bryant. It is no surprise that the Black Mamba has never been shy in expressing his admiration for Westbrook. Like Bryant, Westbrook can be criticized and knocked down, but he comes back stronger than ever and keeps charging. Not only would Westbrook be unfazed at taking the mantle from Bryant, he would probably welcome it.
Westbrook was born and raised in Los Angeles, where in all likelihood the Lakers were his favorite team and Bryant his favorite player. He was a late bloomer who was not heavily recruited by colleges. However, when Jordan Farmar declared for the NBA early, UCLA called and Westbrook accepted an offer to play for the Bruins.
In college, Westbrook was used mostly as a defensive specialist — he was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in his sophomore season. In his two years at UCLA there was nothing special about his overall statistics, but the Bruins did make the Final Four of the NCAA tournament both years.
Pro scouts, however, saw something special in Westbrook because he was the fourth overall selection in the 2008 draft. In his first year, he averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals for the Thunder, while finishing fourth in rookie-of-the-year voting. He was also a first-team all-rookie selection.
In his second year, when he became a full time starter, Westbrook improved his numbers to 16.1 points per game, 8.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. By his third season, he became the player we know today, finishing with averages of 21.9 points and 8.9 assists per game. He became a member of the Western Conference All Star team and was a second team All-NBA selection.
Westbrook’s stellar career has continued to the present day, and last season was one of his best as he averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game. The year before, when Durant was injured and missed much of the season, Westbrook was a one-man team averaging 28.1 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game. In the past two years, Westbrook has had triple doubles on numerous occasions and became the first player since Michael Jordan to achieve that feat in four straight games.
Last year, Westbrook unselfishly made the largest donation to the UCLA athletic department of any basketball player in the school’s history. The amount was undisclosed, but he was widely praised by UCLA administrators not only for the donation but for all of his charitable contributions around the Los Angeles area. Westbrook said he wanted to give back to the school that gave so much to him. It should also be noted that Westbrook recently married his college sweetheart.
No one knows precisely what Westbrook will do with Durant gone. He could decide to stay, or the Thunder might even trade him this summer if they are convinced he is going to leave after next season – it was bad enough to lose Durant and get nothing in return but to lose Westbrook in this same manner would be unfathomable.
Westbrook is a NBA superstar with very close ties to Los Angeles. If by some miracle he chose to sign with the Lakers, some would question his sanity. On Westbrook’s part, he is just the kind of guy who couldn’t care less, which is precisely why his coming to the Lakers, while still a longshot, is the most realistic rumor Lakers fans have heard in a while.