westbrook-getty.png
Getty Images

When the 2021-22 season ended, it appeared as though the Los Angeles Lakers and Russell Westbrook were barreling toward a split. Westbrook delivered a jarring exit interview in which he scarcely accepted responsibility for his part in the debacle of a year. The Lakers tried to trade him for months, and while he was not named directly, both Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss hinted at discussions after free agency by claiming that the roster was yet unfinished (though they went on to make other moves). When longtime agent Thad Foucher split with Westbrook, his statement indicated that Westbrook's unwillingness to fit in with the Lakers was a major reason why.

But April turned into September in a blink of an eye, and with Lakers training camp now arriving, no trade has been consummated. In all likelihood, that means that Westbrook and the Lakers are stuck together for the time being. So Westbrook, for his part, is doing his best to make the most of it.

"I'm all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win," Westbrook told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. "I'm prepared for whatever comes my way."

When Wojnarowski asked if Westbrook felt wanted by the Lakers, he argued that it didn't matter. He has a job to do and he plans to try to do it. "I need to just do my job," Westbrook said. "Whether I'm wanted or not doesn't really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I've always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete."

For the first time in his professional career, Westbrook will have to earn his place on his team. Recent reports have suggested that the Lakers are not committed to start Westbrook, and while a trade is unlikely, Pelinka will certainly keep his ear to the ground. During the offseason, the Lakers acquired Patrick Beverley, who has a long history of feuding with Westbrook, and Dennis Schroder, a younger player with a similar skill set. None of this suggests that the Lakers are especially invested in making the Westbrook partnership work.

But new Lakers coach Darvin Ham has made it clear that he wants to at least try. "I love Russell Westbrook, man," Ham said at his introductory press conference. "Just his mentality, his approach. Just to see him, a guy of that magnitude and everything he's done in the league to get hated on. But being me, I got a wholehearted plan, a clear plan on how I'm going to use him."

The goal, it seems, will be to lessen Westbrook's on-ball workload and force him to exert more energy into moving and defending. Even if he does, his limitations as a shooter make him a questionable fit on any team that includes LeBron James, much less one with as many ball-handling guards as this one. But the rest of the league isn't exactly beating down Pelinka's door to land the 2017 MVP. For now, the two sides have little choice but to try to work together and salvage the season.