Calling all tankers. Calling all tankers. If you are desperate to improve your chances at drafting Victor Wembanyama, there is a disgruntled guard on the Los Angeles Lakers who is on an expiring contract, and not as athletic as he used to be.
The Lakers treated Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves like a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Darvin Ham told the media that he was going to use his regular season rotation for the first three quarters of the game, and LeBron James and Anthony Davis both played well over 20 minutes.
However, if Russell Westbrook’s regular-season performance is anything like it was on Wednesday, the Lakers need an understudy to step in before their regular-season opener against the Golden State Warriors.
He played poorly in just over 25 minutes of action. Westbrook was one-of-three from the field, totaling five points, three rebounds, four assists, and three turnovers, while shooting 50 percent from the free-throw line.
As bad as that stat line looks, his actions on the court were even worse. Westbrook was disengaged from his teammates literally from the start. As the starting lineups were introduced, Westbrook dapped up James — who was the last player announced — and then sprinted away from the team as they huddled together on the court.
Westbrook also got into a strange exchange with Jaden McDaniels as they threw the basketball back and forth to each other, reminiscent of some of the aggressive check balls in “White Men Can’t Jump.” Anytime a 33-year-old Hall of Famer engages in immature behavior with a member of a team that last season played some of the most immature playoff basketball in recent memory, that’s never a good sign.
And then there was the huddle that Patrick Beverley tried to call after a foul. Typical basketball — let’s take this quick break in the action to gather ourselves and make sure everyone is on the same page. James, Davis, and Lonnie Walker IV all promptly gathered but Westbrook made no movement to join the group. Davis actually went after him, and Westbrook declined to join the team and took his place along the baseline for free throws.
Reading someone’s body language is always tricky, especially when watching something on television. He provided an explanation to the media on Thursday, saying that he always leaves the pregame huddle early, and at the free-throw line he was communicating with Lakers coaches. Looking back at how he approaches the player introductions, his defense is reasonable, but when Beverley gathered that huddle during a break in play, nothing Westbrook says can explain why he took no part in that. The Lakers were trying to get their most important players into a rhythm on Wednesday, and nothing Westbrook says can shake the visual that he was not onboard with the team.
Now that everyone has seen Wembanyama, it’s time for the Lakers to get on the horn with the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, or any team that might be ready to punt on this season for a chance at a generational talent, and won’t try to bleed the Lakers for the few remaining future first-round draft picks that they still have — none until 2027.
Westbrook played the good soldier at a press conference in late September when asked about the Lakers wanting to push the ball more on offense, but he looked very much like he was quiet quitting on Wednesday.
If the Lakers want any chance at success this season, addition by subtraction needs to happen sooner than later. The Western Conference is weaker than it usually has been over the last 15 years. The Lakers have a chance at a postseason slot better than a play-in berth, but if they can’t figure out what to do with Westbrook, they might as well insert themselves into the Wembanyama sweepstakes.