Russell Westbrook’s debut season with the Los Angeles Lakers was a complete and utter disaster. The former MVP joined a team only one season removed from winning a championship and played a significant role in their fall out of the play-in race. The team has subsequently spent the majority of the 2022 offseason attempting to trade him only to (thus far) come up short because no team wants to absorb his $47 million salary. There has even been speculation that, if Westbrook were to receive a buyout upon a trade, he’d struggle to find a new team at all on the free agent market.
Still, team owner Jeanie Buss pushed back against the notion Westbrook’s first season in purple and gold was devoid of positives. In an interview with The Athletic’s Sam Amick, she went to an extreme practically no Lakers fans would agree with by calling Westbrook the team’s best player last season.
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“All I can say is that, from my point of view, [Westbrook] was our best player last year. He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy. It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team.”
While Amick did not follow up during the interview, he sent Buss a note afterward asking her to clarify. “The word I should have used was ‘consistent,'” she wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”
Availability was Westbrook’s only real virtue last season. He played in 78 games, but averaged his fewest points (18.5) since the 2009-10 season, shot below 30 percent from behind the arc, led the Lakers in turnovers per game and was consistently criticized for his poor defensive player. However, with the Lakers still reportedly trying to trade Westbrook, it is in the team’s best interest to praise him publicly. All reports indicate that, if Westbrook is still on the team this season, the Lakers plan to give him a meaningful role.
But there is still a wide gap between that and being the team’s best player. LeBron James nearly won the scoring title last season. Even if he missed more time due to injury, he was far and away the team’s best player in an otherwise miserable year.