EL SEGUNDO — In the story of Russell Westbrook’s tenure with the Lakers, the internet might be its own character.
In the midst of the Lakers’ 118-113 preseason loss against Minnesota, a host of fans fixated on a clip from the ESPN broadcast less than 20 seconds long in the third quarter: Patrick Beverley called a huddle during a break in the game. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker IV all walked over – the only person standing apart from them was Westbrook, who appeared to slap hands with Beverley, but seemingly ignored the call to convene.
To any number of amateur sleuths, this could be fuel to a few fires: that Westbrook is unhappy as a Laker; that he and Beverley (despite their protestations) still don’t get along. Overnight, the clip was teased apart and generated hundreds of thousands of views in various iterations.
But another view on the Spectrum SportsNet broadcast showed Westbrook, who had just committed a foul on the Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels, talking to the sideline and then taking his place for the ensuing free throws. When asked about the interaction on Thursday after practice, Westbrook said he was talking to the coaching staff about a missed coverage that led to the play.
He smiled as if befuddled when talking about the Internet’s reaction to the clip – but the 33-year-old knows his behavior is being closely dissected after the offseason rumor mill he’s already run through.
“Honestly I’m just trying to compete and do my job,” he said. “Everything, videos, get nitpicked. You can cut any video and make anything you want out of it. It’s not up to me to be able to judge that. I know I’m a genuine team player. I’ve never had a problem being with my teammates so I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing.”
Ever since the Lakers traded for Beverley, there’s been speculation that the two could not coexist given their history of going at each other over the last decade – dating to 2013 when Beverley made a play that led directly to Westbrook tearing the meniscus in his right knee. But since September, both men have stridently denied any tension remains – with Beverley going so far as to call Westbrook “my best friend” on the team early on.
On Thursday, Beverley said he had not seen the video, but added of his relationship with Westbrook: “Everything’s great. I sit on the plane, he’s right next to me. We get on the road, we hang out together.”
Added Beverley: “Obviously you guys seen something on the internet and want my response from it, but I can’t respond from something I haven’t seen or don’t understand, so I can’t give you guys a valid answer based off what someone else thinks in the public.”
That might be one of the Lakers’ biggest issues: The public never rests.
Another video that circulated appeared to show Westbrook away from the team’s huddle immediately after introductions. But seconds earlier, Westbrook had been at the end of the introduction line, dapping up each teammate in the starting lineup – it’s typical for him to break off from the pack shortly before tip-off.
“It’s really weird, man,” Westbrook said. “Pregame, I’ve been doing that since I’ve been in the league for years, man. I think they just cut the video and obviously the internet is going to take it and run with whatever they need to run with. But, I’ve been doing the same ritual since I’ve been in the league.”
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Whether or not clips of Westbrook legitimately show signs of discontent or alienation might come secondary to the specter looming over the franchise: The Lakers are known to have seriously considered trading Westbrook this summer, and might yet still deal him if they find an adequate deal.
In the meantime, from Coach Darvin Ham on down, the team has pledged to find ways to make the roster work with James, Davis and Westbrook as the Lakers’ “Big Three.” But a poor preseason performance on Wednesday night (with Westbrook shooting just 1 for 3 with five points) only increases the questions of whether the trio – even though they played just 21 games together last season – can work at all.
The most important thing the Lakers can do to lower the volume is probably to get some wins – the regular season begins Tuesday night at Golden State. Until then, Westbrook said, he’s trying to stay focused.
“That’s been the same for me, honestly man, through my career. I’m very used to it. And I’m very accustomed to it,” he said. “That’s why I’ve just been blessed and thankful to be able to continue to play each year and keep my head down and continue competing. And whatever comes with the extra stuff, comes with it.”
Russ said he has become accustomed to the scrutiny that comes with his career, which includes how people cut videos of moments on court: pic.twitter.com/GjnLrMCh1e
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 13, 2022