As Russell Westbrook spent the first decade of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder maturing from the first-round pick to the All-Star Game and the League MVP, the idea of returning to Los Angeles one day to play for the Lakers from her hometown it seemed more and more distant.
“Being from Los Angeles, you always wish you could play for your home team and be able to do that,” Westbrook said Tuesday at his introductory press conference with the Lakers at Staples Center. “But that’s definitely something that was always on my mind. And maybe one day. But I would always come back and say, ‘Ahh, that probably won’t happen.’
As unlikely as it may have seemed when he became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double over a season and stabilized the Thunder’s organization after Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook joined his third team. in the last three years. Since leaving the Thunder. He’s been a Houston Rocket, a Washington Wizard, and now he’s a Laker, wearing a purple and gold No. 0 uniform at the end of the day’s festivities.
“It’s unreal,” said the Long Beach, California native. “I think I still haven’t realized it, being from Los Angeles, growing up not too far from here and being able to watch the shows, try to go to them, try to skip school to try to go to them. Being a Lakers fan and be from Los Angeles, but now everything is hitting the starting point for me. “
Westbrook said that, from a couple of weeks ago, a return to Los Angeles still seemed unlikely, with two years and $ 91 million still owed to the 32-year-old combined guard. But a conversation with LeBron James, whom he described as a friend before he became a teammate, started to turn things around.
“All of this happened so fast, all of this happened so fast, in the last two weeks,” Westbrook said. “But we have had brief conversations and we have obviously talked about what we have to do, what we have to do.”
LA traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and its 2021 first-round pick to Washington for Westbrook on draft day last month, the first step in what turned out to be a near-complete overhaul of the roster for the last year they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns.
“I think it was an opportunity to make an aggressive move that we felt better in our likelihood of bringing the 18th title to the Los Angeles Lakers,” said the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka. “This was an opportunity to maximize the ability to do what we are obsessed with doing and that is bringing an 18th title to this city.”
Two of the titles the Lakers won came at Westbrook’s expense. Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles’ run to the ring in 2010 began with a first-round win over the Westbrook Thunder. James and the Lakers’ bubble championship in 2020 included beating the Westbrook Rockets in the second round.
Although Westbrook never played with Bryant outside of the Olympics and the All-Star Game, he felt a kinship with the late Lakers guard and great guard.
“It hasn’t come out of my head. Things we talked about, him and me, just the potential that he can be a Laker, understanding what that entails,” he said. “It’s crazy to think about that, and that will be with me every time I put on the Lakers jersey.”
Pelinka, who was Bryant’s agent and close friend, fondly recalled that Westbrook was on the short list of players his former client believed embodied the “Mamba Mindset.”
“The first thing that brought us together was being able to compete and not being able to take nights off,” Westbrook said of Bryant.
And the Lakers’ addition of Westbrook should allow James, who is entering his 19th season and will turn 37 in December, to take some of the burden off his shoulders.
“Bron is one of the best players to play this game and his ability to do everything on the court allows me to just figure it out,” said Westbrook, who led the league in assists last year. “I come to a championship caliber team and my job is to make sure that I can make his game easier for him, and I will find ways to do that throughout the game.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel joined Westbrook and Pelinka at Tuesday’s event and declared that LA would become an “extremely dynamic and fast team” with Westbrook added to the group with James and Anthony Davis. And Vogel played down any adjustment issues between the trio because they are “all players making the right play.”
Westbrook, flanked at the event by his father, Russ; his mother, Shannon; and his brother, Ray, made one thing very clear, however: his fit with the city of Los Angeles couldn’t be better.
“Just being able to be with my children all the time, being able to see my mom, my dad and my wife all the time is for me the best thing you can ask for,” he said. “Be back home.”