The Mavericks need another star as much as Russell Westbrook needs a home

Just can’t go all-in on Russell Westbrook anymore


Russell Westbrook
Photo: Getty Images

 

1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see through a glass darkly.”

 

In Russell Westbrook’s mind, it’s still 2017. Judging by his game since leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s been stuck in a proverbial arrested development. In 2017, the Russell Westbrook of the history books was born. He was, and is, the most athletic point guard in league history. He used that, combined with a relentless motor, to average a triple-double in back-to-back-to-back seasons before missing a year and doing it for the fourth time, starting with his MVP-winning season in 2016-2017. Not only did he break Oscar Robertson’s record of being the only player to average such a feat in a season, but he also quadrupled what had been considered an untouchable feat.

 

That accomplishment vaulted him into the history books, leading to him being named one of the Top 75 Players in the history of the NBA and the most beloved player in Thunder history. While Westbrook looks almost exactly as he did in 2017, the first step is slightly slower, the bounce a little shorter. But try telling Westbrook that, and he’ll let you know promptly, you’re full of shit.

 

Westbrook never bothered to put in the all-consuming work needed to develop his broken jumper into a weapon of destruction. Instead, he perhaps over-relied too often on his athleticism, which to his defense, was often enough to make him one of the best players on the face of the planet. Now on the Lakers, his downhill game does not match the half-court exploits of teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka has done Westbrook no favors by relying on fading vets over much-needed shooting. As a result, Westbrook and the Lakers are headed towards an eventual divorce. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that the entire league has witnessed Westbrook’s declining skillset and opposing mental tunnel vision.

 

Westbrook has become a church of one. He is behind the pulpit and in the pews, reciting psalms about himself. It brings to mind the Biblical verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see through a glass darkly.” Westbrook sees himself as still a superstar without acknowledging the game has passed him and his body by in the league’s continued premium on shooting. This dissociation between Westbrook’s narrative around himself and NBA reality has led to him being pushed further out to the peripherals of league relevance. But, there remains a team in the NBA in dire need of additional star power. One who recently squandered their ability to retain their second-best player and is in dire need of a secondary-ball handler. Enter the Dallas Mavericks.

 

The Mavs present the best home for Westbrook’s particular skillset. If the Lakers would be willing to match Westbrook’s outgoing salary with a combination of Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Powell, and Davis Bertans, both teams would immediately improve by getting rid of the contracts holding them back from improving. Westbrook is in the last year of his contract, making him exactly the kind of low-risk, high-reward swing Kristaps Porzingus was not. In addition, KP cost the Mavs two first-round picks, an asset they should refuse to include in any deal for Westbrook. If they can make it happen, it makes a ton of sense.

 

Currently, the Mavericks roster is propped up by the second-best player in the league and probable MVP of this season, Luka Dončić. But behind this emerging supernova is a bunch of mediocrity and wishful thinking. After losing their second-best player, Jalen Brunson, to the New York Knicks for nothing, Mavs fans have been breaking their backs doing mental gymnastics. First, they’ve overreacted to practice performances from Josh Green to forget about Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris picking Green over Desmond Bane after GM Donnie Nelson’s Draft night meltdown. Next, they’ve argued over the All-Star potential of Spencer Dinwiddie, a brutally inconsistent guard with a history of injuries who only played over 57 games and averaged over 20 ppg once each in an eight-season career. Finally, they’ve convinced themselves bench riding center Javel McGee will play better as a starter at 34 years old than he did the first time he played for the Mavs in the 2015- 2016 season, where he was waived after averaging a pithy five points per game and four rebounds per game. Outside of Dončić, the Mavs lack star power, and on-ball scoring while losing Brunson, who was their insurance last season when Dončić sat.

 

Their prize, an off-season addition, was the mercurial Christian Wood. Wood has been one of the best big stats on bad teams guys for the last couple of seasons. But, for some reason, GM Nico Harrison has continued the buffoonery of his predecessor Nelson by promising McGee the starting center position during a contract year for Wood, a much better scorer, and rebounder but the poorer defender. Somebody make it make sense.

 

Westbrook would give the Mavs a box-office presence who, when staggered minutes-wise with Dončić, would provide a run-and-gun maestro who can keep the pace while being surrounded by the Mavs lethal shooting core. The Mavericks were equipped with one of the best shooting teams in the league last season, and Westbrook would thrive next to shooters Reggie Bullock (36%), Dorian Finney-Smith (39%), Christian Wood (39%), and Dinwiddie (40% with the Mavs). Outside of Dončić and Wood, the rest of the Mavs supporting cast does not need the ball in their hands to score. This would allow Westbrook to continue the fallacy that he’s still the MVP-level force from years prior, as the Mavs current roster construction would compliment Westbrooks’s best qualities while hiding his worst.

 

Since the failed Rajon Rondo experiment in the 2014-2015 season, the Mavs have avoided mercurial personalities like the plague. Any player who has shown an inch of ego has been swiftly shuttled off. Think of OJ Mayo, Monta Ellis, and Dennis Smith Jr. There is no “I” in Dallas unless you’re a European superstar and generational talent. Then again, owner Mark Cuban is willing to bend his own rules. But current GM Harrison has shown a willingness to take chances on guys with less than stellar reps. Just look at his off-season addition of Wood, who has a history of clashing with coaches.

 

In reality, the Mavs might not even be an option at this point in Westbrook’s career. First-year Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has said all the right things concerning Westbrook. “He’s ours, and we love him, and we want him to do well,” Ham told reporters. “I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job. So it’s been a great camp for him. He’s played well. Energy has been through the roof. It’s been great.”

But if the season gets off to another rocky start, and Westbrook’s lack of shooting and on-ball domination force the Lakers to trade his contract for the sake of removing him from the team, his value would drop to nil. At that point, there might not be a place for him in today’s NBA. This is insane to think about, given his historical accomplishments were just a few years ago. But if the Mavericks broke from tradition, they could integrate Westbrook’s unique skillset into a low-risk parlay, giving the team another dynamic scorer, secondary ball-handler, and insurance when Dončić. For it to work, it would take both sides to acquiesce to the other. Most importantly, it would take Westbrook looking into the mirror honestly and being okay with the player peering back at him.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.