Will Russell Westbrook ever be happy? If he is, will the Lakers be happy?

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook sits alone on the bench before taking on the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Some nights, Russell Westbrook will sit at the Lakers’ postgame news conference, stare at his phone and fire off short answers to questions that don’t interest him.

If he finds one particularly ridiculous, maybe he’ll audibly scoff or laugh, looking up for a second before putting his head back down.

Other nights, Westbrook will try to explain himself — something that’s been a challenge ever since he helped rewrite the description of what a point guard is and how one could (and maybe should) play.

On one of the “bad” nights, writers are left to look for clues as to what he’s thinking — his minimal sentences offering only the faintest hints.

“That’s funny,” he interrupted one reporter when asked about Ja Morant’s blocked shot Sunday, when the Lakers’ four-game winning streak came to an end. The reporter had said both Westbrook and the Memphis star were the point guard of their respective teams, and it’s not unreasonable to wonder if Westbrook really is — or feels like — the Lakers’ point man.

Cold symptoms kept Westbrook away from practice Tuesday, so he couldn’t be asked for clarity, though his own words this season make it seem clear that he doesn’t feel he has the on-court control he’s used to.

What we learned from the Lakers’ loss to Memphis on Sunday: LeBron James still stellar, but starters give him little support to end four-game win streak.

Jan. 10, 2022

Westbrook’s long been the kind of do-it-all player that’s able to shatter records — a points, rebounds and assists master capable of carrying one of the heaviest workloads in the NBA.


While that obviously wouldn’t happen on a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, facing that reality and working within it are probably easier to plan for than to execute.

A week ago after the Lakers beat the Kings, the team they’ll face Wednesday in Sacramento, Westbrook said getting used to playing with him probably wasn’t easy because there’s been little consistency in what his game looks like.

“It’s probably all over the place because, I mean, it just varies because my job changes every night, honestly,” he said Jan. 5. “Sometimes I’m in the dunker spot [near the basket] a lot of the game. Sometimes I have the ball in my hands, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m the screener. Sometimes I’m cutting. I mean, it’s probably difficult for them to know how I am able to play.”

No one has seen more varieties of what the Lakers are going to be on a nightly basis than Westbrook, the NBA’s leader in minutes played this season. He’s logged 300 more minutes than Carmelo Anthony, who’s second on the team, a reminder of the team’s inability to have James and Davis on the court for extended stretches — not to mention the injuries and illnesses to the Lakers’ supporting cast.

“The environment around him has changed around him with his teammates all year long,” coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday.

The one adjustment that the Lakers knew was coming had to do with James and Davis. Westbrook, who led the NBA one season with a 41.7% usage rate — a metric that measures how many possessions end with a player shooting, creating an assist or turning the ball over — has seen his involvement at the end of possessions fall to its lowest level since his second season.

In house, the Lakers have Anthony as a bit of a guideline. His career drastically changed after he went from being the New York Knicks’ best option to being the Oklahoma City Thunder’s third option behind Paul George and, strangely enough, Westbrook.

“I know from the top to the bottom when it comes to making adjustments. I had to do it multiple times. And I had to do it overnight,” Anthony said. “So that was something that I feel confident speaking on. I feel confident giving advice on. Because if anybody has done it and dealt with it, it was me.”

He didn’t share his experience as Westbrook’s teammate with James before the Lakers trading for the former most valuable player, but Anthony can empathize with Westbrook’s shifting role.

While the situations aren’t identical, there are similarities.

“Having the ball and being able to do what you want to do and figure out as you go, find your flow, find your rhythm, those are things that are dictated by others now,” Anthony said of how the game changed for him. “So I had to come to grips with that.”

It took time that the Lakers, quite frankly, don’t have.

Getting Westbrook comfortable in whatever he’s doing is one of the most important challenges facing the Lakers in the second half of the season. And it’s not like he’s been totally lost.


Despite three consecutive poor shooting games, Westbrook’s looked much more at ease in lineups when James is playing more small-ball center than he did earlier this season. Before Sunday’s brutal night against the Grizzlies, Westbrook had been at least a plus-17 in three of the previous four games.

Going from doing everything to finding the right spots to do the right thing hasn’t been easy. Maybe the disruptions in his rhythm explain some of the negatives like the missed layups this season.

“It has been an adjustment,” Vogel acknowledged. “We knew that coming in when we put this team together. And I feel like he’s handling it well.”

Some nights it looks that way. But like it is with a Westbrook news conference, other nights, it’s just too hard to tell.



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