Report: Lakers 'Lost Faith' in Russell Westbrook as Ball-Handler Early in Season

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 8, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the first half of a game against the Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena on April 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Despite having preseason championship aspirations, the 31-49 Los Angeles Lakers have already been eliminated from playoff contention and are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak.

One of the reasons for the Lakers' struggles was the play of Russell Westbrook, who has a career-worst 15.0 player efficiency rating, per Basketball Reference.

On Friday, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne did a deep dive into what went wrong for the Lakers this season and wrote about Westbrook. Of note, Shelburne reported the Lakers lost faith in the point guard as a ball-handler early in the season.

"I think they lost faith in Russ as a ball handler after the first few weeks," a team source told Shelburne. "And he knew it because they took him off the ball and started asking him to stand in the corner or set screens."

The Lakers orchestrated a blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards last offseason to acquire the nine-time All-Star and 2016-17 NBA MVP.

Westbrook has essentially become a scapegoat for the Lakers' problems, although the reasons L.A. sits 18 games under .500 go deeper than just one player.

Still, he's taken his fair share of criticism, and there also have been some heated press conferences as the losses mounted.

"I think the problem with Russ has been Russ's response to all of it," a team source told Shelburne. "He doesn't leave a window for people to have empathy for him."

"The reality of the season was that Russ has been in a dark corner, and he doesn't know who to trust or who to believe," the source added. "Then, if something doesn't go well for him, he backs up a little more."

Outside of Westbrook, injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James left the team shorthanded. The Lakers didn't get enough consistent production from the group of role players and veterans assembled around the Big Three this offseason either. The defense, which was among the best in the NBA in 2020-21, wasn't nearly as stout this season.

Ultimately, the Lakers must go back to the drawing board, and at this rate, it's hard seeing Westbrook back in purple and gold. A fresh start for both sides might be the best bet moving forward.