Russell Westbrook's legacy adds pressure for Wizards to win


The Washington Wizards have maintained a methodical approach to building their roster, both in how general manager Tommy Sheppard has characterized his plans and also in most of the offseason moves they have made. As Sheppard has said, he does not intend to take "any shortcuts" in his quest to build the Wizards into a contender.

Well, that was all said when there was patience built into the injury recovery of John Wall. Now their most high-profile player, Russell Westbrook, will bring with him a natural urgency for the team to win. They are now tied to the pressure of his legacy, which at this point is completely and absolutely dependent on whether he wins in the playoffs.

Westbrook has done everything an NBA player could do except for one thing, and that is win a championship. He has been to the NBA Finals; he has won the MVP award. He has made the All-NBA and All-Star teams nine times. He has won two scoring titles.

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Westbrook is a certified all-time great but has been held back by his teams' inability to get over the hump. And now he's 32 years old and staring down the end of his prime. He doesn't have time to wait.

He is also not accustomed to teams taking their time. Westbrook has played under two general managers and they happen to be possibly the most aggressive in the entire business.


In Oklahoma City, he had Sam Presti, who swung a blockbuster deal to get Paul George towards the end of Westbrook's time there. In Houston, he had Daryl Morey, who traded Chris Paul to get him in one of the biggest blockbuster deals the league has seen in years.

Now, the calculus has changed for the Wizards. You don't just trade for Westbrook and be content with making the playoffs. He is used to playing for teams that chase titles at all costs.

This is almost certainly going to apply pressure to the front office at the trade deadline. It may add urgency to the development of young players. 

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The Wizards still have a lot of those. They have overhauled their roster to add youth, upside and financial flexibility. But not all of them may be ready to contribute on a playoff team right away.

With John Wall, they knew they had a guy who was bought in for the long-term, for better or worse. Bradley Beal has also shown more patience than many of his peers. In an era when players jump from team to team to chase rings, they have remained committed to building with the team that drafted them.

Westbrook, meanwhile, reportedly changed his mind very quickly in Houston and requested a trade elsewhere. According to Athletic, the reasons were partly rooted in the Rockets' culture. He wanted more accountability because he wants to win.

Wizards executives have said a lot over the past year-plus about rebuilding the team's culture and wanting accountability. Westbrook could help them establish the identity they have been searching for.

If Westbrook wants accountability, the Wizards can utilize the tone he sets. He is also a relentless competitor and that could set a good example for others.

But now the Wizards are connected to Westbrook and where he will ultimately be viewed in the history of the game. They may not want to take shortcuts, but they will have to find a way to get there sooner than later.