In the Russell Westbrook-Lakers saga, the worst may be yet to come

The dynamic between the lakers and Russell Westbrook becomes more untenable with each passing week as both sides seemingly head towards an inevitable divorce. The most recent development was Westbrook Separation from his longtime agentThad Foucher, who had deputized for him since joining the NBA in 2008. During that period, they were considered one of the stronger player-agent relationships in the league.

In a statement to ESPN last week, Foucher cited “irreconcilable differences” and hinted that Westbrook would like to move away from Los Angeles despite the lack of a trade market for him. These three paragraphs were particularly revealing:

“Now, with the possibility of a fourth trade in four years, the market is telling the Lakers to add value with Russell in any trading scenario. And even then, such a trade may require Russell to buy out immediately from the new team.

“I believe this type of transaction only serves to diminish Russell’s value and his best option is to remain with the Lakers, accepting the starting role and support that Darvin Ham has publicly offered. Russell is a first-round player in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and will prove it again before he retires.

“Unfortunately, there are irreconcilable disagreements about his best path forward and we are no longer working together. I wish Russell and his family the very best.”

This is an unprecedented level of tea spilling from an agent in real time. It clearly speaks to a worrying behind-the-scenes dynamic, as the partnership appears to have tarnished to the point that Foucher felt the need to pre-empt the report and publicly defend himself. According to league sources, the split caught several people around the Lakers off guard.

There are two sides to every story and we have yet to hear Westbrook’s narration. The only communication we have seen from him so far is this he liked a tweet saying Foucher’s split had nothing to do with the Lakers. Given Westbrook’s history with the media, he’s unlikely to raise the matter until training camp, if at all.

Nonetheless, nothing Foucher said seemed inappropriate based on Westbrook’s performance last season, Westbrook’s public comments — particularly his chilling exit interview in April — and the extensive coverage of his current market value. Foucher put his reputation on the line with such a bold and public statement to his largest (former) client. There’s probably a decent amount of truth in what he shared.

In a previous paragraph, Foucher mentioned that several teams had recently traded significant assets (multiple picks and players) for Westbrook (Houston, Washington, Los Angeles). He contrasted that with current reality by acknowledging that the Lakers need to freeze assets to move Westbrook, as his contract and performance make him one of the most difficult-to-trade players in the league. As reported weeks ago, the current price for Westbrook is at least the Lakers’ first-round pick in 2027 or 2029, according to multiple league sources.

Foucher also mentioned that if Westbrook is traded, he might be bought out and would have to find a new team, where the market would still be tough for a soon-to-be 34-year-old point guard who can only thrive under special circumstances. For Westbrook, staying in Los Angeles and adjusting to the demands of the Lakers’ coaching staff and front office is the best way to rehabilitate his perception.

Another swap would mean Westbrook has played on five teams in five years. At some point, that amount of movement for a star player suggests that the problem is with the player, fair or not. Westbrook’s defense of being constantly misunderstood can only last so long.

Additionally, Foucher hinted at Westbrook’s lack of self-awareness about his situation. Westbrook hasn’t accepted that his prime is behind him, and the limitations in his game make it difficult for him to be part of a team that has higher ambitions than losing in the first round of the playoffs.

The subtext to Foucher’s language was that Westbrook doesn’t want to stick with new coach Darvin Ham’s vision: Westbrook will become a defensive first-point guard who plays more off the ball than he did last season (and every season of his career). . ). Of course, this isn’t surprising given that the Lakers used a similar framework with Westbrook’s intended role last season that never came to fruition. Westbrook has no interest in role-playing tasks.

The Lakers have publicly endorsed Westbrook because it is in the franchise’s best interest. It maintains the perception of Los Angeles as one of basketball’s most star-friendly organizations. Additionally, creating the impression that Westbrook will return and is a crucial part of the Lakers’ future is a leverage tactic to make them appear less desperate in negotiations. But that hasn’t worked so far. For the rest of the league, it’s obvious how awkward a fit Westbrook was in LA and how much better off the Lakers would be if they moved him — even for weaker players.

It all follows Westbrooks embarrassingly cool non-interaction With Lebron James in the NBA Summer League, fueling the popular notion that James is pushing Westbrook to act.

There have been other perceived slights towards Westbrook of late. In a recent episode of his YouTube show The Shop, James mentioned how it bothers him when he feels like his teammates don’t want to win as much as he does: “I’m obsessed with it. With victory or defeat. And what gives me sleepless nights is when you don’t have everyone in your club who feels the same way.”

For what it’s worth, Westbrook made several nonchalant comments brushing off the Lakers’ struggles and how they affected him last season.

Even Jeanie Buss’ cryptic tweet about missing Kobe Bryant appeared to be a reference to Westbrook’s player-first mentality. (Buss told NBA.com that she only missed Bryant after thinking about him so much lately due to the upcoming Lakers documentary on Hulu.)

To make matters worse, the trading market has all but become more likely to have cooled Kevin Durant stays in brooklyn, and that Kyrie Irving appears to be staying in Brooklyn, at least for now. Indiana is still a wild card depending on his appetite for rebuilding and wealth building. There’s a growing likelihood that all of this uncertainty will continue in training camp, with Westbrook remaining a Laker for at least two more months.

Westbrook is an ironclad Hall of Famer for first pick, but this is set to become one of the saddest post-prime Superstar runs in NBA history.

The only other comparison among players of similar stature is Allen Iverson. There are some superficial similarities between the two: their fearless personalities, competitive fire, stunning athleticism, and polarizing playstyles. But their efforts to adapt to non-star roles, as opposed to contemporaries like Paul Pierce and Vince Carter, might be their closest resemblance.

Both players were best with the ball in hand, and as they got older and started playing with teammates who were better primary options, they failed to develop their off-the-ball skills, accept their limitations and themselves adapt to the needs of their teams. Some of the stubbornness that made them great also hurt them as they came to terms with their basketball mortality.

The moment Westbrook steps foot in an NBA spot next regular season — assuming he does — he will overtake Iverson in longevity by playing in his 15th season (Iverson played 14 seasons). But if he did act anytime before the February 2023 trade deadline, he’s been bouncing around more than Iverson was at the end of his career (Iverson has played for four teams in his last four seasons, including playing for Philadelphia twice).

Westbrook’s split from Foucher likely hurts the Lakers’ influence in future trade talks and only reinforces the perception that Westbrook is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. It certainly doesn’t help their position.

If it’s true that Westbrook isn’t ready to take on the role Ham is asking of him, then the Lakers need to seriously consider alternative options if they can’t trade Westbrook, including the drastic scenario of sending him home and him Paying $47.1 million keeps you off the team. No Westbrook is better than last season’s inefficient and ill-fitting Westbrook.

This situation only seems to get uglier. Aside from an unprecedented boost in Westbrook’s confidence and willingness to adjust his game, it’s become even clearer that the Lakers are better off without Westbrook next season.

(Photo by Russell Westbrook: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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