"LeBron James will figure it out, he's one of the smartest players in the history of the game." A lot of difficult situations were explained with a sentence like this. No surprise, it's what most people said about Westbrook joining the Lakers. Russ is obviously a horrible fit next to LeBron and AD (well, next to most stars), but if anyone can figure it out, it's LBJ. Here's a dirty little secret - the question is, does LeBron want to sacrifice? The track record so far says a resounding "NOPE!"
"LeBron never changed"
With every superstar comes mythmaking. Stories of the incredible lengths they go to just to marginally improve. LeBron's been attentive to his basketball IQ reputation, throwing out stories and anecdotes to fortify his reputation. One of those, for instance, is that every time he gets a new teammate, James says he goes on 2K to see what's it like to play with the guy. Or that he studies hours of film to see how each teammate likes to be passed to - off the floor or a bullet through the air, where do they like the seams on the ball to be when the pass arrives? Wow, what a brilliant basketball player.
All that may be true, but the real trick comes after. Just like in Inception, you plant a simple idea that will grow into a concept. If LeBron is that smart, he must've successfully incorporated every teammate, right? Well, the answer with Westbrook is simple - the only way he is to be a meaningful contributor on the court is with the ball in his hands. Westbrook barely moves without the ball and is a lousy shooter at best; without the ball, he just stands there, and his defender can play free safety.
"The whole key is whether or not LeBron is ready to say 'Here, you take it.' When LeBron went to Miami - everyone talked about 'You gotta sacrifice?' - LeBron never sacrificed. LeBron goes to Miami, Bosh and Wade see their usage rate goes down, LeBron's stayed the same. LeBron goes back to Cleveland, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving's usage rate goes down, LeBron's stayed the same."
J.A. Adande, The Bill Simmons Podcast
LeBron's is a brilliant basketball mind, but he never used his brilliance to change his game and role - he uses it to help you change yours. There's the best version of yourself to be the best possible LeBron sidekick, and James will adapt to help you excel in that role, but he never really sacrificed to help someone be the best version of themselves. It's always been about being the best version that complements LeBron.
Will LeBron make Westbrook better?
It's not likely LeBron will do what's best for Westbrook - put the ball in his hands. While that may be the best version of Westbrook, that's not optimal for playing next to LeBron. But if he can't shoot and just stands around, what needs to change? Well, it's not likely Russ can magically learn how to shoot overnight. But running is in his arsenal. Here's a stat for you - Russell Westbrook's career record for screens set in a game is 7. When did he set that record? A few days ago, in a Purple and Gold jersey.
The same way LeBron needed Kevin Love to become the NBA's most overqualified rebounder and corner 3 specialist, he needs Westbrook to become the NBA's most overqualified screen setter and slasher. If that happens, I guess the few horrible shots Westbrook is bound to take each game will be worth it. If not, he'll be the highest-paid guy standing in the corner in NBA history.
LeBron will give Westbrook every chance to become a better basketball player. The question is, can Russ take the ego hit?
P.S. If you missed it, Brodie is the highest-paid player on the Lakers. Quite a price tag for a screen setter.