Make no mistake: The Lakers swung a trade for Russell Westbrook because resident All-Stars Anthony Davis and LeBron James wanted to welcome the California native into the fold. Never mind the former Most Valuable Player awardee’s seemingly questionable fit as a low-efficiency volume shooter who requires the ball in order to thrive. Meeting at the Space Jam: A New Legacy thespian’s home two weeks ago, they resolved to iron out evident kinks in their disparate styles of play, committing to make the requisite sacrifices on the process.
Whether promise turns to practice remains to be seen, but the Lakers have always been moved by star power. And, certainly, Westbrook carries heavy wattage. It isn’t that they need any more reasons to entice their already intensely loyal fans. It’s that they fervently believe the formula leads to championships, and there can be no disabusing them of the notion given the 17 banners hanging high at Staples Center. The roster of players having donned the purple and gold reads like a Who’s Who of the sport’s greats, and their latest addition doesn’t so much as add to its luster as continue the tradition for which it stands.
The bottom line is clear, of course, and remains the only validating factor for the Lakers. Having been used to, and spoiled by, success, they acknowledge that the new partnership will ultimately be judged by its capacity to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy when the battlesmoke clears. Nothing else matters. Thusly, going for Westbrook cannot but be regarded as a high-risk, high-reward move; his contract runs for two more years, which means he’s tied to them until James’ own deal expires. The latter must have been convinced enough of the pluses of the development to commit to it.
Indeed, the Lakers could have acquired sharpshooter Buddy Hield vice Westbrook for much less. That they sprung for the nine-time All-Star instead speaks volumes of their willingness to go all in and accept the results. No doubt, they were spurred by the presence and endorsement of James, whose singular skill set and vast experience figure to make the transition easier. That said, it won’t come without pitfalls; not for nothing is their new recruit playing for his fourth team in as many seasons. His polarizing personality has been both a boon and a bane; it fuels his dynamism, but likewise his refusal to compromise.
The hope is that Westbrook will listen to James and, to a lesser extent, Davis in pursuit of the one thing his resume still lacks. If that hope is answered, then well and good; it means he truly values the ring to agree to change. If not, then the Lakers are in trouble. They stand to waste the twilight years of arguably the league’s greatest player of all time just to learn these: not all purple is good, and not all that glitters is gold. Some are from eminently avoidable beatings, and some are from fools.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.