For the second-straight game and the third time this season, Russell Westbrook sat on the bench in the final minutes of a Lakers game.
Westbrook's absence in crunch time didn't have much of an impact on the Bucks' dominant win over the Lakers Tuesday, but the nine-time All-Star could be seen approaching LeBron James and Anthony Davis for a conversation before the final buzzer.
"I told them I wished I could help them," Westbrook told reporters after the game. "Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the game to be able to help them & that’s why I came here. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that for them but that’s not my call."
Westbrook's struggles in his first season with the Lakers are well-documented and are likely a big reason why the team is now three games under .500 entering the NBA Trade Deadline. His scoring average (18.3 ppg) this season is the lowest it's been in 12 years and he's posting a career-high turnover percentage (18.3) despite the fact that his usage rate hasn't been this low (27.3%) in over a decade.
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Still, Westbrook believes he's earned the right to play in closing lineups and doesn't need to reach any "benchmark" the coaching staff may or may not put before him.
“I shouldn’t have to hit any benchmarks, to be honest," Westbrook said. "I put a lot of work in. I got a lot of respect in this game. I earned the right to be in closing lineups. Numbers would say, I don’t have to explain that. Like I said, once again, it ain’t my decision."
The Lakers bet big on Westbrook over the offseason, sending three rotation players (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and a first-round pick to the Wizards in exchange for the former MVP. James and Davis were seemingly on board with the move, and the Lakers formulated an old, yet star-studded roster including players like Carmleo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.
The results simply haven't been there, and as the trade deadline rapidly approaches, there aren't many clear paths to improving the roster. Westbrook's contract has proven to be extremely difficult to move in a deal that brings back any sort of value, and the rest of LA's future draft picks and rotation players were traded for Anthony Davis in 2019.
There is a laundry list of challenges for the Lakers regarding their efforts to build a championship contender around James and Davis, but it seems they'll need to figure out what to do with their starting point guard first.
"You never know when you're coming in, you never know when you're coming out. You never know when you're playing, you never know... a bunch of things," Westbrook said. "And I'm speaking for me personally, so it's a difficult process to be able to figure out and create some rhythm and some consistency where we can actually see what we're able to do as a team, but those decisions are made by him and his coaching staff, and you've got to live with it and move on."