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Newsletter: No time to panic with the Russell Westbrook experience

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook passes the ball over Warriors guard Jordan Poole.
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook passes the ball over Warriors guard Jordan Poole during the first quarter of the season-opening game on Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Hey everyone, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, welcome to the latest edition of the Lakers newsletter, where, don’t fret, we are winless, too.

Things went pretty awful in a lot of ways in the team’s season opener Tuesday, the Lakers’ newest star looking as confused and disconnected as ever.

Luckily, I’ve got a little experience with this.

Nice guy, at least

I spent the last few weeks immersing myself in the world of Russell Westbrook, working on a big profile that ran in Tuesday’s paper and online the same morning. While this doesn’t make me an expert in what Westbrook’s dealing with right now, I have some thoughts.

▶ The slow start is totally predictable. Lakers players have been talking about it, Westbrook has been talking about it and Frank Vogel has been talking about it. Westbrook is usually a slow starter. Add that with the process of integrating with James and Anthony Davis and here we are.

▶ Seeing how that process looked in the opener was jarring, Westbrook completely ineffective on both sides of the court as he tried to find the creases in the game where he could best fit.

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▶ One thing I believe about Westbrook after talking to his friends and former co-workers is that he’s got a genuine desire to do the right thing. While all his teammates are saying that Westbrook needs to “be himself” — Davis and James both used the phrase on Tuesday — he knows that this isn’t his team. So he’s going to try to fit in.

▶ What he’ll end up learning over the next few weeks and months is that if the Lakers wanted a player to “fit in,” they wouldn’t have made the trade for Westbrook. You don’t ask Westbrook to be a spot-up shooter or bit player. You get him because of the things you think he can do.

▶ It’s going to be tough because Westbrook is going to try to do the right thing — at least what he thinks is the right thing. He’s going to pass — a lot. That might mean more turnovers, which will knock him out of rhythm, and that could mean even rockier shooting and uneven play.

▶ The eventual hope will be that he gets comfortable enough to stop trying to avoid stepping on toes, to play with the same reckless energy that helped him become one of the NBA’s most respected players because of his effort and intensity.

▶ The challenge will be getting Westbrook into the right positions on the court with the right players. Getting shooters like Wayne Ellington back from injury will help. There were a few moments early in the second half Tuesday night when Westbrook got into the paint and created for himself that were encouraging.

▶ In the end, this integration might not work. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because of “want to” or anything like that. Sometimes pieces just don’t end up fitting. But I think the intentions here are in the right place.

▶ We’ll know a lot more 10 to 15 games in.

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Top 75

At some point, it might be fun to compile my own Top 75 list of the NBA’s players in celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary season, though to do it right, it would probably require the kind of time and research that I just don’t have. But it’s not lost on me how wild it is that so many current Lakers will be either on the NBA’s list (which gets finalized Thursday night) or deserving of serious consideration.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard are all in the same locker room, essentially one-fifteenth of the greatest players in the league’s history.

It’s wild to take a step back and think of it that way.

Also, if you missed the NBA Lane ad to celebrate this season, it’s terrific. You can see it here.

Stat of the week

Maybe this will stick, maybe it won’t, but I came across this and it is too weird not to share.

Westbrook had a negative plus/minus rating 34 times last year during the Washington Wizards’ regular season and playoffs.

Washington’s record in those games? 0-34.

Song of the Week

“Freedom” by Jurrasic 5

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I heard a remix of this song Tuesday morning while I was getting my opening night haircut, and the stylist (?) had to tell me to keep my head still. After watching the Lakers stumble, it stayed in my head because this team will struggle if they’re not able to get in transition where they can play with more freedom than they can in the half-court game. Anyway, enjoy a deeper cut from one of my favorite rap groups.

Since we last spoke ...

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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