Westbrook: I 'never felt like I had a fair chance' to be myself in L.A.

Westbrook: I 'never felt like I had a fair chance' to be myself in L.A.

As he went through a 45-minute exit interview with media, a tumultuous season with the Los Angeles Lakers was officially put to rest for Russell Westbrook.

The 33-year-old veteran was candid throughout his closing press conference, leaving little doubt regarding how he felt about his situation.

When Westbrook was introduced upon his arrival in Los Angeles, his message was that he desired to be somewhere he was wanted. He was asked on Monday if he still felt wanted.

"When I first got here, I felt I was never given the fair chance just to be who I needed to be to help this team." Westbrook told reporters, mentioning preconceived notions as a major factor. "From top to bottom, just every aspect, because what I bring to an organization is not just basketball.

"I never felt like, coming in, I had a fair chance on the basketball front, on any front."

Westbrook claims that those preconceived notions arose from false stories from the media, so coming to Los Angeles, he was fighting against this story and that story like no other stop in his career.

"Unfortunately, throughout the season — especially this season — the ability to be able to constantly create stories about myself, and things I may have and people thought I may be doing, it can jade people's perspective about me," Westbrook said. "The outside fan and the outside world (think), 'Oh, well maybe he is the problem, maybe he is the bigger issue,' and in actuality, there are so many issues going on internally that are actually, really happening."

One of those internal issues revolved around now-former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and the job he did this season with three All-Stars. Immediately following Westbrook mentioning internal issues, he was asked about Vogel.

"I have never had an issue with any of my coaches before, as much as people may assume," Westbrook said. "I have never had an issue with any coach, any players, any staff members, anybody actually... I'm not sure what his issue was with me, or I am not sure why... but I cannot really give you answer why we never really connected. That's something he has to answer.

"From the get-go, it felt like I was trying to prove myself to him."

As far as making adjustments was concerned, Westbrook said he knew he was going to have to make the biggest sacrifice coming to L.A, but "any situation I have been in, I have had to make the sacrifice. Whether it was in D.C. whether it was in Houston, whether it was in Oklahoma City. In actuality, I have always been able to make a sacrifice."

In terms of on-court adjustments by the coaching staff, Westbrook stated that he "just does what he's asked."

LeBron James, who addressed the media first for Laker exit interviews, offered his thoughts on his first season as Westbrook's teammate.

One thing about Russ that I love and will always love, is just his competitive spirit, what he brings to the game every night. And when you’re in a profession when so many injuries happen and so many things go on, to have a guy that’s reliable, who can put on the uniform every single night, that’s something I respect out of everything. I’m not gonna sit here and make decisions for the front office and things of that nature, but I love being a teammate of Russ.

I mean, at the end of the day, the reason why we were not very good together is we weren’t on the damn floor together. That is the No. 1 thing. I mean, how many games did we play together? We played, what, a quarter of the season together? ... I played more games with my high school teammates in a season, and we only played 27 games. So there it is.

(For what it's worth, Westbrook and LeBron weren't great in those 21 games together this season, going just 11-10 with a minus-3.5 Net Rating.)

"Russ is a hall of fame player that gave everything he could to this organization this year... In terms of Russell Westbrook and his future, part of that is in his control," Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka added.

For Westbrook himself, this was the first season in his career in which he was not in the 98th percentile or better in usage rate. Even beside Kevin Durant, James Harden or Bradley Beal, Westbrook had one of the top usage rates in the league. He recorded his second-lowest assist percentage (31.0%) and second-worst turnover percentage (15.4%) — both barely edging out his rookie season. 

The 2021-22 campaign also saw Westbrook take his fewest amount of shots per game (15.3) on the lowest field-goal percentage of his career (39.8%). His minus-4.0 NET was a product of his second-worst Offensive Rating (107.5) and career-low Defensive Rating (111.5). 

One point Westbrook repeatedly made was that he wasn't allowed to use his strengths on the floor to help make the team successful. The veteran's ability to score on the fastbreak and take advantage of his opponents' turnovers has always been one of his strengths, but this year, he had career-lows in points off turnovers and fastbreak points per game.

Whatever the reason may be — whether it was coaching style, roster fit or straight up regression — Westbrook was clearly not the same player we have seen throughout his career.

It is clear that a new fit should be on the horizon for the oft-misunderstood point guard, or else it'll be back to the drawing board for all parties involved.

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