Russell Westbrook's next move: What NBA execs and scouts expect
Not the Carmelo Anthony that he played with last season in Los Angeles — the Carmelo Anthony he played with in Oklahoma City five seasons ago.
That Carmelo Anthony arrived in Oklahoma fresh off 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, a year removed from receiving an All-NBA third-team vote. (Westbrook is one year removed from receiving an All-NBA first-team vote and MVP consideration.)
After one season with the Thunder, Anthony found himself valued for nothing more than cap space, traded twice and waived twice in the span of seven months. And then, he was out of the league entirely for nearly a year.
After one season with the Lakers, Westbrook appears to be on a similar brink. And it may already be too late to stop it all from coming full circle.
Could Westbrook accept a new role earlier than Anthony did? And if not, is another team looking for a reclamation project?
Here is how Westbrook is currently viewed around the league according to NBA insiders, from how he could potentially salvage his time with the Lakers to potentially moving elsewhere.
Rival executives and scouts reached by FOX Sports were nearly unanimous that Westbrook and the Lakers would be best served if he led their second unit, even though Westbrook hasn’t come off the bench in an NBA game since Nov. 28, 2008, a month into his rookie season with the Thunder.
While an Eastern Conference scout also said he sees Westbrook ideally coming off the bench, he believes the biggest question is whether he is ready to accept it.
"It is not what he has left, it is: How he will accept that he is not the player that he was?" the scout said. "It’s similar to Carmelo. I’m not sure Russ has the awareness to accept a lesser role."
The Lakers have yet to indicate what role they expect Westbrook to play this season.
They’ve actually said some nice things about him over the last few months, largely to buttress the blame heaped upon him for last season’s sorely disappointing 11th-place finish. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said he was the team’s "best" player, then revised it to "most consistent," perhaps after receiving a text message from agent Rich Paul, who represents both James and Davis. First-year head coach Darvin Ham said he was "thrilled" to coach Westbrook, that it was one of the reasons he was "excited" about the job. James responded to a social media post about the excessive Westbrook criticism by saying, "Can’t wait for him to go off this season!"
While acquiring Beverley makes a lot of sense for a team that needs defensive help, physical toughness and someone who can contribute without needing the ball, it makes no sense for a team that still has Westbrook.
Beverley and Westbrook do not like each other. At all. For a long time. It began with Beverley inadvertently submarining Westbrook in the 2013 playoffs, resulting in a meniscus tear that ended Westbrook’s season and forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career. Heated on-court exchanges have been a regular part of their meetings ever since. Three years ago, Westbrook told reporters that Beverley had tricked them into thinking he was a good defender, which Beverley said damaged his career. It also inspired him to clap back at Westbrook last season, saying, "I remember when someone said all I do is run around and trick y’all. Well my boy is The Real Magician this year."
Their awkward interaction at Beverley’s introductory news conference on Tuesday was a Class A exhibit in forced civility.
Asking Westbrook to embrace coming off the bench would be hard enough; asking him to come off the bench behind someone he both dislikes and doesn't respect would require one of the greatest ego checks of all time.
"It all depends on how they start," an Eastern Conference GM said. "If Darvin gets them to buy in the first 20 games and they go 15-5, they could be all right. Below .500 and there could be problems."
Westbrook may never get that chance. The rumor making the rounds in NBA circles is that the Jazz might be willing to take Westbrook’s contract if the Lakers throw in a first-round pick or two. The Jazz would then waive him, making him available to any team at a prorated veteran minimum’s price.
"It makes sense," an Eastern Conference executive said. "Miami believes they can rehabilitate anyone."
All that, of course, depends on Westbrook recognizing that he needs to be rehabilitated, that he needs to shift his perspective on who and where he is in his career.Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, "Rebound," on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and "Yao: A Life In Two Worlds." He also has a daily podcast, "On The Ball with Ric Bucher." Follow him on Twitter @