Western Notes: Westbrook, Bryant, Clarkson

Russell Westbrook, who is locked in with the Thunder through the 2016/17 season, evolved into a capable leader during a challenging campaign for the team, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman writes. For the most part, Westbrook, who tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve, kept his composure in check after a preseason outburst, Mayberry adds. Westbrook led the league in scoring with 28.1 points per game and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Westbrook said he was most pleased with his improved leadership from the stellar season.

““That was something I had to learn. I wouldn’t say it was forced. It was something I had to learn,” Westbrook said. “If I was playing well or not, still find a way to take myself out of the equation and constantly keep helping other guys on the team. That was a huge part of me and my leadership and the biggest part of what I learned about myself [and want] to carry over to the next season.”

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reiterated to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report (Twitter link) that next year will likely be Kobe Bryant‘s last, but left the door open for the star beyond that. “I’m sure that’s something that will be discussed a year from now,” Kupchak said. Kupchak signaled that next year would be it for Bryant on Thursday in a radio appearance with Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg on SiriusXM NBA Radio (audio links). Bryant hasn’t ruled out playing beyond next season, and said in March that he would probably hold off on a decision until after the 2015/16 campaign.
  • Kupchack said Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson compares similarly in terms of athleticism and style of play to Westbrook in a radio appearance with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, as relayed by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com. “If there’s a player in the league that plays like him, it’s Russell Westbrook,” Kupchak said. “Now, I’m not saying for a second that Jordan Clarkson is the next Russell Westbrook, but he’s that kind of a ball-handling guard.”  The Lakers acquired Clarkson with the 46th pick in last year’s draft, and he earned considerable playing time last season because of injuries, as Holmes points out. Clarkson averaged 15.8 points per game on 45.8% shooting, with 5.0 assists per game and 4.2 rebounds per game in 38 games as a starter.
  • Steven Adams, who played so well this season that the Thunder said he was off-limits at the deadline, displayed some growth in his second season in the league and showed defensive versatility, Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman writes.

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