Giannis Antetokounmpo started the game against the Lakers, going 11-11 from the field, and finished with 44 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal - all that in just 35 minutes. The Lakers were down as much as 30, confirming the old "you are what your record says you are." At 26-29, they are a mediocre team fighting for a playoff spot, and their hopes for success depend on a player refusing to accept the truth.
Earned the right?
After the game, ESPN's Dave McMenamin's game coverage was titled "Los Angeles Lakers feel urgency to make changes as trade deadline nears." We all know the only change that would help them improve would be to trade the most untradable contract in the NBA. Russell Westbrook is practically untreadable for the same reason getting Ben Simmons is a dangerous proposition.
It's not that the total inability to make a shot or the length and money they are under contract for. Simmons and Westbrook are fighting for the most delusional player in the NBA title, and Westbook has made sure he ranks no.1.
Earned the right to be in closing lineups? Guess who was on the bench when the Lakers made their comeback. Vogel sat Westbrook with a bit under three minutes to go in Q3. The Lakers outscored Milwaukee 37-28 from that point and almost made a complete comeback. I understand players need to be irrationally confident, but there's confidence, and then there's delusion. It's not that players aren't converting him from the perimeter. Giannis could've easily contested and probably blocked Westbrook here but decided it wasn't necessary.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Lakers will surely do whatever they can to offload Westbrook. Given his contract, horrible form at the moment, and above all refusal to accept he's not who he thinks he is, the only theoretical trade would be to yet again trade him for John Wall. The problem is, all assets you could've attached to Westbrook to make such a deal appealing to Houston were shipped to Washington to get him in the first place.
As the game was ending, Westbrook was seen trying to cheer up LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a smile on his face. I'm sure LeBron and AD also wish Westbrook could help them, but unlike him, I'll wager they agree with the coach that the best way he can help them right now is being on the bench.
The most damning thing in the Ramona Shelbourne piece about the Simmons-Harden trade rumors was a detail that gives us insight into Simmons' state of mind. According to the story, the reason Simmons was mad and disappointed after Embiid's comments following their playoff loss was the fact Simmons believes he was a much better teammate for not blaming Embiid after they lost to Toronto in Game 7.
Blamed Embiid???? He was carrying the team that entire series, and despite the fact Joel had a bad shooting night in Game 7, the Sixers were winning the minutes with him on the floor and losing those with Embiid on the bench. Simmons can't shoot to the point he was passing up open layups, and Simmons still believes his biggest problem is that the Sixers' system is too Embiid-oriented.
Westbrook's “earned the right to be in closing lineups” comment is of the same ilk. All the numbers prove Westbrook is a liability on the court and can only contribute to winning basketball if every little thing is designed to hide his weaknesses and accentuate his strengths. If he wants to win championships, Westbrook has to join better players, and that means those teams won't design their team around him. For that to work, Westbook would have to do the one thing he, and Simmons for that matter, can't seem to do - face the truth.
There used to be a time when teammates and coaches would help you do that, but that seems to be in the past. Players are surrounded by echo chambers of confirmation bias; people telling them only what they want to hear. In my opinion, those are a bigger problem than bad shooting numbers or a large contract.
When he joined the league, Moses Malone was quite clear with Charles Barkley - "You're fan and you're lazy" Barkley took his advice, worked with Moses after every practice, and had a great career. We need more Moses Malone in the NBA.