Despite a flurry of trade rumors, and any reasonably bright 10-year-old’s theory of team construction around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are set to begin the season with Russell Westbrook on the roster. They realized this offseason that it would take the kind of package that typically lands a star—two first-round picks—in order to shed the 2017 MVP and acquire rotation players. This heavily mortgaged team can’t even move a first-round pick any earlier than 2027, but that wouldn’t have been a deterrent for tanking teams like Indiana and Utah.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka didn’t pull the trigger, though. Whatever the rationale for keeping Westbrook around, be it hope that a gentler offer might emerge, or coach Darvin Ham’s delusion that the most developmentally and temperamentally stubborn player in the NBA might suddenly morph into Bruce Brown, they are stuck with Westbrook and his $47 million on the season’s payroll. It also means the Lakers have to deal with the day-to-day realities of employing Russell Westbrook in 2022, which are very funny.
Before Wednesday’s preseason game against the Timberwolves, Westbrook took care to locate every last spot of sweat on his head while the remainder of the team gathered in their warm-ups for a pre-game huddle.
This isn’t to suggest that Westbrook is on bad terms with his colleagues. “If I was to have a best friend on the team right now, for sure it’d be him,” new teammate Patrick Beverley said of Westbrook two weeks ago, tabling their years of on-court beef. “We spend the most time together, we’ve been locked in, lift weights together and all that stuff, I’m super-excited.” Both players appeared in last night’s funky three-guard, small-ball starting lineup, with Lonnie Walker, LeBron, and AD. This was the result when one best friend tried to gather the other four players for a huddle in the third quarter:
In the hours since, both huddle snubs have come under scrutiny by Kobestani citizens and neutral observers alike. Westbrook has a longstanding habit of sprinting from the pre-game huddle to that exact corner (although he does quit Wednesday’s very early), while others pointed out that he appeared to be hopping around in the pre-game huddle before that incriminating footage begins. As for the mid-game huddle, an alternate camera angle was used to argue that actually, Westbrook was busy talking to someone on the Lakers’ sideline rather than deliberately ignoring Beverley.
This much is clear: The location and precise emotional valence of Westbrook’s stationary sulking was the most interesting aspect of his performance in this 118-113 loss. He delivered five points, three rebounds, four assists, three turnovers, and one spirited game of hot potato:
After the game, Westbrook posted an Instagram story referencing “1 Peter 5:8,” which, in the King James Bible, reads as follows: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Typically the scripture-as-subtweet is a midseason maneuver, so the Lakers are well ahead of schedule.