The sad decline of Russell Westbrook has been talked about this summer


By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

Right now, who are we talking about more in sport than Russell Westbrook?


Kevin Durant, perhaps, as his business saga rumbles and stumbles perhaps? Baker Mayfield maybe, if we take the last week in isolation? Nick Kyrgios, for a hot minute, while screaming in his dressing room during Wimbledon?

All things considered, Westbrook has been and may continue to be the most consistent giver of sports talk through the warmer months of 2022, garnering more attention than ever at a time when his career has never been better. hectic.

His positioning at the center of the NBA gossip cycle since the fractured end of a doomed Los Angeles Lakers campaign is a development that doesn’t make much sense on the face of it. But when you dig a little deeper, the reasons become clearer.

Hardly a day goes by without a new wrinkle in Westbrook’s history, which leaves us with the odd reality that the most interesting topic of conversation in the league comes from an athlete who might not be among the 100 best basketball players.

“The Athletic” placed Westbrook, 33, fifth and last in its annual NBA Top 125 rankings, positioning him with a group of players ranked between 85th and 125th in the sport.

His contract is so loaded ($47 million left in the final year) that it may take a pot of several first-round picks to persuade another team to take him on. What does that say about your perceived value, when it could cost a treasure trove of usually good enough project capital to land an All-Star… just to get rid of you?

Now, given that it’s 2022 and social media isn’t getting any more cuddly, there are a lot of people who find this all quite amusing. If you can’t see the smiles of satisfaction from various sections of the basketball fanbase, then you’re just not looking very hard.

Many league fans have never had a soft spot for Westbrook as much as other elite players, and they’d say there’s a reason for that. He can be prickly at times, and his toughest critics would say he’s sometimes seemed more interested in filling his stat line than winning at all costs. In some quarters there is a genuine sense of delight at his fall from grace.

Yet, in truth, it is not a funny story. It’s sad.

Westbrook hasn’t helped his audience much in recent months, especially with an exit interview at the end of the season in which he slammed now-fired head coach Frank Vogel and suggested the public support that he received from LeBron James and Anthony. Davis was wrong.

But to see a player considered one of the 75 greatest of all time endure such a humiliating set of circumstances is as alarming as it is unfortunate.

“What are you really trying to do to this man?” said former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala on the “Point Forward” podcast. “What did he do to you?” »

It is important to remember this. Westbrook, given all the evidence of his career to date, wouldn’t want to be in that position. He wouldn’t have chosen to have played as disappointingly as last season when his affair with James and Davis fell so miserably flat that Los Angeles finished 11th in the Western Conference.

A nine-time All-Star, Westbrook wouldn’t want his contract to be seen as offering perhaps the worst value in professional sports.

The Lakers are keen to get him out on his massive salary because it’s their only plausible way to get Kyrie Irving into the building. As has been forensically detailed in the media, there isn’t really much clamor from the teams to pick up the phone and roll out the welcome mat.

All the while, each new day brings another little nugget to push the storyline forward. These may be the scorching summer days when nothing notable happens in the sport, but no one has told Russ that.

Last weekend brought the mystique of a lingering potential beef with James, when the pair showed up for a Summer League game but didn’t speak to each other.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham spoke positively about the possibility of using Westbrook productively in his roster, which no one saw as anything more than a ruse.

Westbrook tweets and chats – fashion was the last topic he touched on Tuesday – but we’re still no closer to knowing where he could play basketball next season, or if he can do it at a level that offers a viable advantage to a team.

“He’s the most overpaid player in basketball history,” FS1’s Skip Bayless said on ‘Undisputed’. “He became the worst regular starter in the league. For most of the year, he was the worst in terms of turnovers. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. Last year, everything the world would have assumed he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook becoming a true superstar-level player again. The way his game is set up works best when it’s all through him, and there just isn’t a team in the league for whom that’s an attractive option.

Pass Bayless addresses back and forth with Westbrook

Pass Bayless addresses back and forth with Westbrook

Skip Bayless responds to Russell Westbrook calling him out on Twitter.

He still believes in himself, as he should. He’s still NBA royalty, even if it doesn’t look like it right now.

And he’s still a big enough name to grab attention, which is actually the biggest root of the current problem. When you are a fallen star, everyone is watching the accelerating decline.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. YesYou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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