The dynamic between the Lakers and Russell Westbrook is becoming more untenable every week as both parties appear to be heading towards an inevitable divorce. The most recent event was Westbrook’s split from his longtime agent Thad Foucher, who has represented him since he entered the NBA in 2008. During this period, their relationship between player and agent was considered one of the strongest in the league.
Fouché cited “irreconcilable differences” and indicated that Westbrook would like to leave Los Angeles, despite there being no market for him, in a statement to ESPN last week. These three paragraphs were especially revealing:
“Now, with the possibility of a fourth trade in four years, the market is telling the Lakers they need to add value to Russell in any trade scenario. And even so, such an exchange may require Russell to immediately leave the new team through a buyout.
“I believe that this type of deal only reduces the value of Russell and his best option is to stay with the Lakers, accept the starting role and support that Darwin Ham has publicly offered. Russell is the No. 1 Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and will prove it one more time before he retires.
“Unfortunately, there are irreconcilable differences regarding his best path forward and we no longer work together. I wish Russell and his family all the best.”
This is an unprecedented level of chatter from an agent in real time. This clearly speaks to the unsettling dynamics behind the scenes as the partnership has clearly soured to the point where Fouche felt compelled to get ahead of the report and publicly defend himself. According to league sources, the split took several Lakers by surprise.
Every story has two sides, and we’ve yet to hear Westbrook’s story. The only message we have seen from him so far is that he liked the tweet saying that the break with Fouche had nothing to do with the Lakers. Given Westbrook’s history with the media, he’s unlikely to broach the subject before training camp, if at all.
Still, none of Fouche’s claims seemed unfounded given Westbrook’s performance last season, Westbrook’s public comments – especially his cringe-worthy April interview – and extensive reports of his current market value. Fouche put his reputation on the line with such a bold and public statement against his biggest (former) client. Apparently, in what he shared, there is a decent amount of truth.
Fouche mentioned in the previous paragraph that several teams recently traded significant assets (several picks and players) for Westbrook (Houston, Washington, Los Angeles). He countered this with current reality, admitting that the Lakers will have to put in assets to move Westbrook, as his contract and performance make him one of the league’s toughest players to trade. As reported a few weeks ago, Westbrook’s current asking price is at least a 2027 or 2029 first-round pick by the Lakers, according to multiple league sources.
Fouche also mentioned that if Westbrook were traded, he would potentially be bought out and have to look for a new team where the market is still tough for the future 34-year-old point guard, who can only thrive under specific circumstances. Staying in Los Angeles and adapting to the requests of the Lakers coaching staff and front office is the best way for Westbrook to regain his perception.
Another trade would have meant that Westbrook played on five teams in five years. At some point, this amount of movement for a star player suggests that the problem is with the player, honest or not. Westbrook’s defense that he is constantly misunderstood cannot last very long.
In addition, Fouche hinted at Westbrook’s lack of self-awareness regarding his situation. Westbrook has not resigned himself to the fact that his best years are behind him, and the limitations in his game prevent him from being part of a team that has higher aspirations than losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The subtext of Fouche’s language was that Westbrook does not want to live up to new manager Darwin Ham’s vision for him: Westbrook is becoming a defensive point guard who plays more off the ball than last season (and any other season in his career). ). This, of course, is not surprising, since the Lakers used a similar scheme with Westbrook’s intended role last season, and it never came to fruition. Westbrook is not interested in role-playing tasks.
The Lakers publicly supported Westbrook because it was in the interest of the franchise. It maintains Los Angeles’ reputation as one of the most star-friendly basketball organizations. Also, giving the impression that Westbrook is about to return and is an important part of the Lakers’ future is a leverage tactic designed to make them less desperate to negotiate. But so far it hasn’t worked. It’s obvious to the rest of the league how awkward Westbrook has been in Los Angeles and how much better the Lakers would have been if he moved — even for younger players.
This all comes on the heels of Westbrook’s uncomfortably cold lack of interaction with LeBron James in the NBA Summer League, which has fueled the widespread belief that James is pushing for a Westbrook trade.
Recently, other manifestations of disdain for Westbrook have been noticed. In a recent episode of his YouTube show The Store, James mentioned how much it bothers him when he doesn’t feel like his teammates want to win as much as he does: “I’m obsessed with it. With victory or defeat. And what makes me have sleepless nights is when your club doesn’t have everyone who feels the same way.”
Whatever the case, Westbrook made some offhand comments, brushing off the Lakers’ troubles and how they affected him last season.
Even Jeanie Bass’ cryptic tweet about missing Kobe Bryant seemed to be a reference to Westbrook’s player-centered mentality. (Bass told NBA.com that she just missed Bryant after thinking so much about him lately because of an upcoming Lakers documentary on Hulu.)
I miss KB. He will understand and explain everything that I am not allowed to. To be honest, he was the greatest Laker of all time. He understood the team above himself. This means that your rewards will come if you value team goals over your own, then everything will fall into place. Everyone can answer.
— Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss) July 4, 2022
To complicate matters further, the trading market has cooled off with the growing possibility that Kevin Durant will stay in Brooklyn, and that Kyrie Irving is likely to stay in Brooklyn, at least for now. Indiana is still a wild card depending on its appetite for recovery and asset accumulation. There is a growing possibility that all this uncertainty will continue in training camp, with Westbrook staying with the Lakers for at least another two months.
Westbrook is a staunch Hall of Famer with the No. 1 spot, but it’s becoming one of the saddest post-premiere performances by a superstar in NBA history.
The only other comparison among players of a similar level is Allen Iverson. There are some superficial similarities between the two: their fearless characters, competitive fire, amazing athleticism, and polarizing playstyles. But their attempts to adapt to non-star roles, unlike contemporaries like Paul Pierce and Vince Carter, may be their biggest similarity.
Both players were best in possession of the ball in their hands, and as they got older and started playing with teammates who were the best primary options, they were unable to develop their skills off the ball, accept their limitations and adjust to what required of them by their teams. Part of the stubbornness that made them so great also hurt them as they dealt with their basketball mortality.
The moment Westbrook steps onto the NBA court next regular season – if he does – he will surpass Iverson in longevity, playing in his 15th season (Iverson played 14 seasons). But if he traded at some point before the February 2023 trade deadline, he roamed more than Iverson at the end of his career (Iverson has played for four teams in the past four seasons, including playing twice for Philadelphia).
Westbrook’s breakup with Fouche is likely to damage the Lakers’ leverage in future trade talks, only adding to the perception that Westbrook is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. This, of course, does not help their position.
If it’s true that Westbrook is unwilling to accept the role that Ham asks of him, then the Lakers should seriously consider alternative options if they can’t trade Westbrook, including the drastic scenario of sending him home and paying him $47.1 million. stay away from the team. No Westbrook is better than last season’s underperforming and inept Westbrook.
This situation looks like it will only get worse. With the exception of Westbrook’s unprecedented rise in self-awareness and willingness to adapt his game, it has become even more clear that the Lakers will be better off without Westbrook next season.
(Photo by Russell Westbrook: Darren Yamashita/USA Today)
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