It was an emotional day for Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles on Thursday, as the guard completed his dream of playing for his hometown Lakers. Westbrook, who grew up in the LA area, played for the team he had been cheering on as a child, signing for the final year of his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 37-year-old said that it was still “not real” to him that he was actually wearing his Lakers jersey. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m just going to go out there and play hard and try to help this team get to the playoffs, try to make it to the Finals and try to win a championship.”
For Russell Westbrook, basketball is a game of inches. As the Thunder’s guard, he’s quick to point out the difference between a supposed highlight reel slam dunk and a missed layup, and he’s quick to point out how the path to his first NBA title is paved with missed shots. And now that he’s in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star is more focused than ever on making the most out of those opportunities, especially against the most talented teams in the league.
Russell Westbrook, who will join a team for the first time in his basketball career, says he’s still not able to believe he’s playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.. Read more about lakers 2021 and let us know what you think.
While Russell Westbrook spent the first ten years of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, progressing from first-round selection to All-Star to league MVP, the prospect of playing for his hometown Lakers appeared more far.
“Being from L.A., you always hope you could play for your home club and be able to accomplish that,” Westbrook said Tuesday at the Lakers’ Staples Center introduction press conference. “But it’s something that has always lingered in the back of my mind. Perhaps one day. But I’d always come back and say, “Ahh, that’s probably not going to happen.””
As unlikely as it may have appeared when he became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double in a season and helped to rebuild the Thunder franchise after Kevin Durant departed for the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook has now signed with his third club in three years. He’s been a Houston Rocket, a Washington Wizard, and now a Laker, with a purple-and-gold No. 0 uniform on display at the conclusion of the day’s events.
The Hawthorne, California resident described the experience as “surreal.” “Being from L.A., growing up not far from here and being able to watch the parades — try to go to them, skip school to go to them — I guess it hasn’t struck me yet. Being a Laker fan and a Los Angeles native, everything is finally coming full circle for me.”
Westbrook stated that a return to Los Angeles remained improbable as of a few weeks ago, owing to the 32-year-old combo guard’s two-year, $91 million contract. However, a discussion with LeBron James, whom he characterized as a buddy rather than a teammate, began to shift things.
“It’s weird,” Russell Westbrook said of joining the Lakers on Tuesday. “I don’t believe it’s struck me yet.” Getty Images/NBAE/Andrew D. Bernstein
“All of this occurred so rapidly, the past two weeks or so,” Westbrook remarked. “However, we’ve had short discussions and have discussed what we need to do.”
On draft day last month, Los Angeles traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and its 2021 first-round pick to Washington for Westbrook, the first step in what turned out to be a near-complete overhaul from last year’s roster, which was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns.
“I believe it was an opportunity to make a bold move that we thought improved our chances of bringing the Los Angeles Lakers their 18th championship,” said Rob Pelinka, the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager. “This was a chance to optimize our potential to accomplish what we’re passionate with, which is to deliver this city an 18th championship.”
Two of the Lakers’ championships were won at Westbrook’s cost. The Lakers’ journey to the 2010 championship began with a first-round victory against Russell Westbrook’s Thunder. In the second round of the 2020 NBA playoffs, James and the Lakers defeated Westbrook’s Rockets.
Despite the fact that Westbrook only met Bryant at the Olympics and All-Star Games, he felt a bond with the late, great Lakers player.
“It hasn’t gone away from my mind. Things that we discussed — both myself and him — included the possibility of me becoming a Laker, as well as what it entailed “he said “That’s weird to think about, and I’ll be thinking about it every time I put on that Laker jersey.”
Pelinka, Bryant’s agent and close friend, remembered warmly that Westbrook was on his former client’s short list of players that embodied the “Mamba Mentality.”
“Being able to compete and not being able to take evenings off was the first thing that sort of drew us together,” Westbrook said of Bryant.
And the Lakers’ acquisition of Westbrook could relieve some of the pressure on James, who is entering his 19th season and will be 37 in December.
“Bron is one of the greatest players to ever play this game, and his ability to do everything on the court enables me to simply figure it out,” Westbrook, who led the NBA in assists last season, said. “I’m joining a championship-caliber squad, and my goal is to make his game simpler for him, and I’ll look for ways to accomplish that throughout the game.”
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Lakers coach Frank Vogel joined Westbrook and Pelinka, declaring that with Westbrook joining James and Anthony Davis, L.A. will become a “very dynamic, fast-breaking squad.” Vogel further dismissed any incompatibilities amongst the three, claiming that they are “all make-the-right-play players.”
Westbrook, who was joined at the occasion by his father, Russ, mother, Shannon, and brother, Ray, made one thing clearly clear: He couldn’t be more at home in Los Angeles.
“To me, the greatest thing you can ask for is to be able to be with my kids all the time, to be able to see my mum and dad and my wife all the time,” he added. “It feels good to be back home.”
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