For the third time in as many years, Russell Westbrook will have a new home. As in the previous offseason, the transfer comes at his behest. He thought he would thrive with the Rockets, only to find his small-ball partnership with top dog James Harden crash and burn at the hands of the rampaging Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. And, based on information making the grapevine, he bristled in the absence of organizational and personal accountability — made all the more evident with the departures of head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey — enough to push for yet another change of scenery.
Demanding to be dealt and actually being dealt are, of course, two different things. And, in Westbrook’s case, it wasn’t simply because he comes with a prohibitively expensive contract that any potential trade partner for the Rockets would need to match. More importantly, it was due to his advancing age and diminishing effectiveness; for all the upward ticks in his numbers while playing Robin to Harden’s Batman, he remained a polarizing presence in the face of his poor shooting and ball-dominant predilections.
In this regard, the Rockets were fortunate to have latched on to a deal that granted Westbrook his wish. The Wizards just so happened to be in the same boat, with erstwhile foundational piece John Wall likewise wanting out. And, lo and behold, the salaries and contract duration even match. It didn’t even matter much that the latter hasn’t suited up in close to two years and will be coming off rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon; a heavily protected first-round pick was all it took for franchise owner Tilman Fertitta and the new dispensation to agree to the trade.
And so Westbrook will once again be in a novel situation with the Wizards. On second thought, perhaps it won’t be too much of an adjustment; as was the case during his time with Paul George and Harden, he’ll be playing second fiddle in the offense he’s joining, what with Bradley Beal already the established centerpiece. Not that anything has ever really stopped him from being, well, himself. On the court, he has continued to do what he wants while in the moment, with little or no regard to the system he’s in.
Clearly, the Wizards are hoping Westbrook has learned from his experience — at least to the point where he’s willing to make concessions in pursuit of collective objectives. As well he should; after all, his future is at stake. There’s a reason the market reacted tepidly when his desire for new digs made the news last month, and while he remains confident of his capacity to deliver, he cannot possibly be blind to the increasing gap between belief and reality. The question, to be sure, isn’t if he will finally admit to his frailties. It’s when — which makes the answer anybody’s guess.
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.