Short guards are notorious for aging poorly in the NBA. When quickness is your best asset, losing a step can be fatal. Only the craftiest players — think Jason Kidd, or Chris Paul — can remain effective. Whether it’s changing their playing style, using so many defensive tricks it borders on dirty play, developing a set shot, or altering diet and exercise regimens, changes must be made or a once elite point guard will find himself bouncing around the league like he’s Ish Smith.
Enter Russell Westbrook, who parted ways with his agent of 14 years, citing “irreconcilable differences” over how to handle his last year under contract with Los Angeles. In a statement to ESPN, Thad Foucher said he believes the 15-year veteran and 2016-17 league MVP should “stay with the Lakers, embrace the starting role and support that Darvin Ham publicly offered.”
Foucher rightfully asserted that another trade would diminish Westbrook’s value, and “may require Russell to immediately move on from the new team via buyout.” It certainly sounds like the two were at odds on what kind of situation is out there for a guard who only knows how to play one way and is getting paid $47 million.
The part about this that sucks — and there’s only one part because watching Westbrook submarine an LA LeBron James season was magical — is that you never want to see a guy’s hometown turn on him to the point of harassment. That also could be a reason why Russ doesn’t want to stay in purple and gold. Certainly can’t blame him if his family received death threats.
Westbrook is one of the best athletes in the history of the NBA, and it’s exceedingly rare that he’s able to play as aggressively as he does without suffering career-altering injuries. Derrick Rose was such a specimen that once one tendon snapped, the rest of his body unraveled. John Wall got a few more peak-athlete years in before the wear and tear wore and tore. Ja Morant has already had durability problems caused by going to the rim with a recklessness that shortens careers.
It’s inhuman for Westbrook to be in the physical condition that he’s in at 33 years old. The guy averaged 34 minutes per game in 78 contests last year. He might take awful shots, get lost on defense, and stand around when the ball’s not in his hands, but nobody would say he’s a bad athlete for his age — or in general. He’s not the rim-rattling, elevate-on-anyone player that he used to be. Yet if you were to compare him to other small guards a decade and a half into their career, there are very few who were even in the same stratosphere physically.
He’s not just one of the most athletic guards to play in the NBA, he’s one of the most athletic people to grace the sport. I’m talking the same level as Vince Carter or Dominique Wilkins. If ever there was a guy who could overcome the limitations that most slight guards face late in their careers, Westbrook is it. Shit, he could probably average a triple-double next year if given the touches on a bottom feeder.
This isn’t the Wizards or Rockets anymore though. He’s on the same team as LeBron and Anthony Davis — and yet it still seems like he’d rather chase the high of (in his mind) unquestionable production than fill a role he’s overqualified for.
However, we’re all beyond the point of begging Brodie for introspection. And by we, I mean local and national media, his coaches and teammates, fans, and his agent. Outside of his family, there are very few people sympathizing with a man that stubborn, and it’s worth wondering not if he’ll ever change, but rather if he’ll be in the NBA that much longer.
This kind of self-sabotage is reminiscent of Allen Iverson late in his career. While he fell off physically in a way we have yet to see happen to Westbrook, AI’s refusal to accept anything less than a starting/starring role was what led to him bouncing from Denver to Detroit to Memphis over the span of four seasons. It’s pretty easy to pick up on what Foucher was implying, and it sounds like Westbrook wants to try another team in hopes that the next organization will let him get back to being Russ.
This shouldn’t be that hard — not with the physical gifts of a Greek god. If John Stockton can play 19 years off of bounce passes, quick hands, and guile, surely Mr. Triple Double has learned enough tricks to last a few more seasons.