Things have not gone to plan for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. Injuries, poor roster construction and disappointing play from some key players have combined to leave them in seventh place in the Western Conference at 21-21. From preseason title hopefuls to "can they avoid the play-in tournament" in the span of a few months.
What's even worse is that due to their roster and salary cap situation, the Lakers don't have much flexibility to make changes as they look to dig themselves out of this hole and get back into the mix in the West. They used most of their interesting trade pieces in the Russell Westbrook deal this offseason and sent most of their future tradeable draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis in 2019.
Making moves on the margins -- such as trading Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers to open up a roster spot -- are really their only options. That is, unless they really want to blow things up by trading Westbrook. And according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, they were quietly discussing such a possibility earlier this season. But though such a deal is unlikely, in large part due to Westbrook's massive salary ($44 million this year, $47 next year) and borderline disastrous play at times, it has become a big enough story that Westbrook addressed the rumors.
In an interview with Amick, Westbrook dismissed any concerns, saying he's dealt with trade rumors before and they won't have any effect on how he approaches the game.
"I never worry," he fired back. "Do the job. Be professional. Every year, my name is in trade (rumors). It never, never, never seeps into how I approach what I do. It's kind of what I was mentioning back there (during the press conference). I see this game so different (in terms of) how to use it to be able to impact things.
"Regardless of if (a trade) did happen or if it didn't happen, nothing's going to change my mentality or my purpose. I feel like I have a purpose that's bigger than basketball and I always keep that as my forefront regardless of what happens inside of pro sports."
Westbrook's first season with the Lakers has not gone well overall, and it has been especially painful in recent weeks. Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Westbrook is averaging just 12.4 points and six assists per game, while shooting 29.3 percent from the field and zero percent from 3-point land (0-for-12). The Sacramento Kings even recently trolled him as their "cold as ice" player of the game -- a bit they were told not to continue.
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As problems mount for Westbrook and the Lakers, the gibes are only going to get louder -- from fans and opponents alike, if the Memphis Grizzlies' recent trash-talking is any indication. And barring a surprising turn of events ahead of the deadline, Westbrook is going to be with the team for the long haul. If the Lakers really want to figure this thing out, it's going to have to happen from within.