Lakers News: Jeanie Buss Makes Confounding Selection For Best 2021-22 Laker

Does she actually watch games?

In a lengthy podcast conversation with Sam Amick for The Athletic NBA Show, the team’s controlling owner Jeanie Buss made a surprising — nay, totally confounding — pick for your Los Angeles Lakers’ MVP during a disastrous 33-49 season in 2021-22.

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Here’s the full quote in question:

“All I can say is that, from my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year. He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy. It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team.”

This is a disconcertingly out-of-touch comment. It suggests that availability is the only ability that matters, that attendance somehow is indicative of quality. 

It also could explain how Jeanie Buss leans on the advice people who lack a recent track record of success (former Lakers team president Magic Johnson, former Knicks team president Phil Jackson, former Knicks interim/associate head coach Kurt Rambis) when it comes to team-building. Despite her clear business acumen, she may not have been able to see the ways in which Westbrook is no longer a particularly good NBA player.

Maybe she just doesn’t watch her own team’s games? The comments would certainly make more sense when considered through that lens.

Buss’s comments on Westbrook were so insanely tone-deaf that Amick writes he sent her a follow-up note after the interview to confirm how she felt, as if trying to gently guide her to figuring out that was the wrong thing to say. Her text message response offers up something of a corrective:

“The word I should have used was ‘consistent’… He played 78 games last season.”

Again, that’s a very, very, very different thing from being the Lakers’ best player. Westbrook did lead last year’s entire Lakers squad in games played, to his credit. New Sacramento Kings shooting guard Malik Monk came in second, playing 76 healthy contests. Given the outsized import of Westbrook’s $44.2 million contract and expected contributions to the team last year, he may have been its worst. That is “worst” relative to what he needed to do in order for the team to succeed, not worst overall. That would be Rajon Rondo.

An outsider (i.e. someone who wasn’t actually watching or listening to any Lakers games, and who doesn’t pay attention to stats) could perhaps be goaded into thinking Westbrook had an okay season. After all, the 6’3″ UCLA product did average 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists through those 78 games. He also shot a miserable 29.8% from a relatively high volume of triples (3.4), and converted a poor 66.7% of his 5.1 nightly charity stripe looks. 

He also refused to adjust his game to accommodate his better, albeit injury-prone, star teammates LeBron James (who missed 26 games) and Anthony Davis (absent for 42 contests). Westbrook’s activity off-ball was lackluster, and he was lost on defense.

It turns out, however, that Russell Westbrook’s offense may not have been as competent as one might expect upon first blush, either. In fact, digging into the advanced metrics a bit, Russell Westbrook may have had one of the worst offensive seasons for a high-usage player in NBA history last season:

Yikes. Michael Carter-Williams, famously, duped a lot of the NBA world into thinking he deserved Rookie of the Year accolades on a bottom-feeding 19-63 Philadelphia 76ers team in 2014. His next stops proved that his output that year was just a function of having the ball in his hands a ton on a terrible roster. Someone has to score points, and it was MCW that year. At just 30 years old, Carter-Williams has been out of the NBA since the 2020-21 season.

As he’s aged, Russell Westbrook’s weaknesses only have become more pronounced, to the point where he’s, at best, a bench contributor on a good team. That’s why Jeanie Buss’s Lakers have been desperate to trade him all summer. That’s why they ultimately decided to trade Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson for the much more reliable Patrick Beverley, who looks to be Westbrook’s replacement as a starter.

The fact that Buss is not attuned to Westbrook’s status as persona non grata on her team could explain a lot of L.A.’s recent roster moves, honestly.

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