After he and LeBron James first took the court for a joint workout this summer, Russell Westbrook said one thing became very clear to him.
“It was going to work,” Westbrook told ESPN on Tuesday during the Lakers’ annual media day, held at the team practice facility.
Westbrook and James shared some sweat equity at a high school gym in Beverly Hills in mid-August, nearly six weeks before James gathered Westbrook and the rest of his teammates for an informal training and bonding trip in Las Vegas this past weekend.
While James, 36, is only four years older than Westbrook, 32, his career has included four titles to Westbrook’s none. In fact, James’ first ring came at Westbrook’s expense, as the Miami Heat downed Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals.
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“LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship,” Westbrook told ESPN. “My understanding of the commitment, understanding the sacrifices that we are both going to have to make, including myself and [Anthony Davis] as well for the betterment on the team, and finding ways to be able to win a championship. And that’s the ultimate goal. So anything along the way … we cannot get distracted, cannot get deterred from our ultimate goal.”
While they don’t have a championship count in common, there are ties that bind when it comes to their playing style. Westbrook has the most triple-doubles in league history with 184, and James is the only player ever to average a triple-double in a Finals series. Westbrook led the league in assists last season; James was the assist leader two seasons ago. Both are on the short list when considering the most physically skilled players of their generation.
And Westbrook believes that James can help him become even better.
“When you get a chance to play against one of the greatest players of all time and consistently, it helps my game,” Westbrook said. “It helps my preparation, makes me focus more on the things I need to focus on to get to a point where I can sit down and say, ‘I’ve accomplished everything I can accomplish in this league and now I’m lucky enough to be able to play alongside him.’ So I’m looking forward to that, looking forward to the things we can accomplish here together this season.”
James says that Westbrook’s relentless style of play will impact L.A. immediately.
“Right away, he ups our pace right away,” James told ESPN. “He’s always in the top five as far as pace, whatever team that he is with. So being able to get out and being able to get out on the break and be able to try to get some early buckets before the defense is set — that creates that. But also he’s just a flat-out playmaker. I think what a lot of people don’t talk about in his game is how unbelievable of a passer he is. Everyone sees the rebounds, everyone sees the scoring and things of that nature, but his passing, his ability to make guys around him better, that does not get talked about a lot. We all look forward to that, being his teammate.”
James and Davis tried to recruit Kawhi Leonard to join them as a third star in the summer of 2019. Leonard chose the LA Clippers instead, and the Lakers won it all anyway, with James and Davis meshing as a terrific tandem. So, why did the Lakers feel the need to expand their superstar count to a trio this offseason?
“Well, I think Russ wanted to come home, and we were able to get it done,” Davis told ESPN. “No knock on last year’s team, because we don’t know how good we could have been with all the injuries. And when Russell reached out and said that he wanted to come home, we found a way to make it work.”
The trade worked, with L.A. sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and its 2021 first-round pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for the former MVP.
And much like Westbrook’s realization after his first practice session with James, Davis also believes the pieces are destined to fit together.
“Having a player like that, who’s going to bring it every night, energy, the motor, defensive end, I think it’s something that we just had to take a chance on,” Davis told ESPN. “And he’s excited, we’re excited to have him.”
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