Just because the Washington Wizards have not enjoyed much success in their past, with zero 50-win seasons or conference finals appearances since the 1970s, doesn't mean Russell Westbrook is ready to take a step back in his goals as an NBA player. He has been in the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons and just about every one of those teams entered the season as title contenders, to varying degrees.
Now 32 years old, Westbrook has accomplished just about everything in the NBA save for winning a championship and his Wizards teammates better be ready to aim for one.
"There’s one goal and that is to strive to win a championship. If you don’t win, there’s only one champion and all the other teams fail," Westbrook said. "That’s kind of how I look at it. The mindset and mentality does not even remotely change. It stays the same."
Winning a championship is certainly the goal for every team and every player, but the Wizards have not even made the playoffs the past two seasons. Last year, they went 25-47. Westbrook's Rockets went 44-28.
But Westbrook sees potential in Washington's roster with Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant and others. They just have to have the right mindset, he says.
"I size it really high," Westbrook said when asked for the potential to win with his new team.
Westbrook said he views his own legacy as not incomplete because he doesn't have a ring. He hopes his legacy is more rooted in his off-court influence and the impact he's made inspiring others through his platform as a famous athlete.
"As I look at legacy and understanding what that means, I have a different perspective as it pertains to that," he said. [But] every season I go into it with the mentality to strive to be the best. If I’m not striving to win the championship, then what’s the point?"
How far the Wizards go will depend on Westbrook and Beal and the guys at the top, but also the development of a long list of young players including Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Deni Avdija and others. Some collection of them will have to prove they are ready for the limelight, to contribute on a playoff team.
Westbrook explained what he expects from his teammates and expressed a bit of patience.
"I expect them to be them. The biggest thing is be who they are. That’s how you learn, make mistakes. That’s how the great stars of our league and the young stars, you see things that they do. You make mistakes when you first have to learn," he said.
"We’ve got a lot of young guys. Go out and compete and play hard, that’s the biggest thing. All the Xs and Os, that will come. But playing hard and understanding what it means to compete, work hard and everything else will follow."
The Wizards hope Westbrook can help jumpstart their effort to build a new culture for the organization. They see his energy, passion and dedication as the perfect example to set for their recent draft picks.
Westbrook played for the Thunder for a long time and they are associated with one of the strongest winning cultures in the league. He believes the Wizards can get there and he's already noticing the signs.
"Being around here, I can already see it on day one and two. We have a lot of guys that love to work and love to put the work in," he said.
"I’m just happy to be able to be a part of it, especially at this point in my career to come to this organization and be able to help enhance the culture."