Russell Westbrook has played in a lot of big games and performed under the pressure of expectations throughout his storied NBA career.
But as he gets set to begin his tenure with the Lakers, chasing his first championship with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the pressure is back on in a big way. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith thinks Westbrook will face more pressure than ever before next season in Los Angeles.
"There will never, or there will never have been more pressure on Russell Westbrook with this upcoming season," Smith said on First Take Friday. "This is the most pressure that he has been through in his career."
Smith clarified that Westbrook will likely not feel the pressure, as he's known to lock in on the court and block out basically any outside noise. But when it comes to his legacy as a Hall of Fame-caliber player without a championship, 2021-22 will be a big year for Westbrook to answer questions regarding his ability to thrive on a title contender.
"Now, to be fair to him, he doesn't give a damn," Smith said. "Russell Westbrook don't care about much. He's a rough rider, he's pig-headed, he's strong-willed. Whatever word phrase you want to think is appropriate, he don't give a damn. But from the outside world looking at him, more than ever before, his resumé is going to come into play."
If all goes well for Westbrook and the Lakers, they could find themselves back in the NBA Finals after a year off in 2021. The Western Conference is always a gauntlet, but it's hard to rule out James in the postseason. Smith specifically is hoping for a Finals matchup between two big-market juggernauts. At least, that's what he's hoping for.
"We might all need to to to be medicated for depression if we don't get this Finals: Brooklyn vs. Los Angeles," Smith said.