Rockets Rumors: Russell Westbrook Taking on Leadership Role in Locker Room

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2020

Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook (0) brings the ball up the court against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

On a team loaded with veteran players who have plenty of experience in big games, Russell Westbrook reportedly is asserting himself as an integral voice for the Houston Rockets.

Per The Athletic's Shams Charania, Westbrook has emerged as a vocal leader in Houston's locker room in his first season with the team:

"Westbrook joined [James] Harden's team in Houston, with Harden serving as the main usage star, but recently it has been Westbrook who has taken the initiative within the locker room. At practices and with pre- and postgame setting and everything in between, Westbrook has delivered a succinct message to the Rockets, league sources tell The Athletic:

"'We need to play together and be committed to winning—get out of our individual feelings and have no agendas.'

"He has said this unabashed to all teammates in the hope of building the proper habits as the season wears on."

Charania noted Westbrook "wants badly to win" and has delivered "several passionate messages" to his teammates. 

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One recent example came after Houston's 117-107 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 15. Westbrook told The Athletic's Kelly Iko the team needed to start "playing hard consistently on a night-in and night-out basis."

The Rockets (27-16) remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, but their 6-7 record over the last 13 games had dropped them to the sixth seed. However, they are only 3.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 2 spot. 

A key reason for Houston's recent slide is Harden's shooting struggles. He still leads the NBA in scoring average (36.6 points per game), but he's only shot over 40 percent from the field twice in the past eight games. 

Westbrook has been an effective running mate alongside Harden in Houston this season. The 2016-17 NBA MVP is averaging 25.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. 

If the Rockets want to get over the hump in the Western Conference playoffs, Westbrook's ability to perform during games will be just as important as his leadership skills in the locker room.