Of our major sports leagues, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pettier one than the NBA, a souped-up muscle car powered, not by gas or an electric charge, but bruised egos and thinly-veiled passive aggression. We’ve seen that toxicity play out in Golden State, where Draymond Green’s seismic temper and an office whistleblower leaking damning videos to the media have further muddied what was already a tense work environment.
Amid the Warriors’ latest saga, a heated locker-room drama threatening to upend one of basketball’s great dynasties, the Lakers—the most-storied franchise of them all—are navigating their own internal strife with disgruntled All-Star Russell Westbrook harvesting his misery and frustration like a meticulous farmer tending to his crops. This was the scene Wednesday night before their penultimate preseason game at Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center), with Westbrook refusing to partake in a huddle initiated by Patrick Beverley (a player he’s feuded with in the past), instead preparing for tipoff well away from teammates on the opposite sideline.
Westbrook is an intense player and perhaps that level of focus requires some alone time, taking a moment to get into the proper head space. It should be noted, however, that’s Wednesday’s game was a glorified exhibition with zero in the way of stakes, except possibly for younger role players hoping to impress coach Darvin Ham, who may still be deciding on his rotation ahead of next week’s opener at Golden State. Assistant coach Phil Handy came over to corral Westbrook, presumably imploring the veteran to join his teammates, but to no avail.
Now entering his 14th season and his second as a Laker, Westbrook has been the subject of frequent trade rumors, with the NBA’s all-time triple-double king due an obscene $47.06 million this upcoming season, his final year under contract. Westbrook’s dismal shooting (44.4 percent last season) combined with a reckless style of play that lends itself to turnovers has made the 33-year-old expendable, though interest has been scant with most teams reluctant to take on a declining malcontent with a history of wearing coaches out with his combative, at times belligerent personality.
If Ham had any hair left on his head it would probably be going gray, with Anthony Davis suggesting he’s not a fan of his new position, contending that he’d rather play the four despite Ham’s insistence that he views him as a center.
Many have speculated that if the Warriors were to move on from Draymond, the Lakers, given his relationship with LeBron James (with whom he shares an agent and has gone in on several business ventures), would be his best fit. But with Westbrook sulking and Davis already showing up his new coach, maybe he’d be better off elsewhere.
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