L.A. Notes: Westbrook, LeBron, Kawhi, George, Powell

While there was some initial trepidation this fall about how former MVP Russell Westbrook might respond to being asked to come off the bench on a full-time basis, the Lakers guard appears to have chosen to embrace the change, writes Chris Mannix of SI.com. NBA analyst and former head coach Stan Van Gundy is among those impressed by how Westbrook has handled his new role.

“From the outside, I don’t sense resistance on his part this year,” Van Gundy told Mannix. “I don’t see him pouting about coming off the bench. He’s not making passive-aggressive comments in the media. I see acceptance from a guy who’s trying to make it work.”

Former NBA star Dwyane Wade, who transitioned to a bench role late in his own career, also admires Westbrook’s efforts to make things work in Los Angeles.

“It’s just that sometimes it’s about the situation,” Wade said to Mannix. “So at this age, at this time, with this team right now, the best situation for Russ was to come off the bench and be able to have the freedom that he has to just be Russ. To not have to overthink all the time about, ‘O.K., LeBron. O.K., I got to get the ball to AD. O.K., I got to shoot this. O.K., I don’t want to shoot.’ He doesn’t have to think as much. Russ has now put himself in a better situation by coming off the bench.”

One high-ranking team executive who spoke to Mannix believes Westbrook’s adjustments will change how teams view him and will result in more teams pursuing him when he reaches free agency in 2023.

In the short term, it has also led to his name coming up in trade rumors less frequently, with some reports indicating the Lakers seem more inclined to hang onto the 34-year-old through this season’s trade deadline rather than surrendering valuable draft assets to move his $47MM+ expiring contract.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two Los Angeles-based teams:

  • Lakers star LeBron James will turn 38 later this month, but he has no plans to retire anytime soon. In a German-language interview, teammate Dennis Schröder said that James has told him he’d like to play another five to seven more seasons and retire at age 45, Zach Stevens of LakersDaily.com relays.
  • The Clippers‘ performance against Boston on Monday night was a reminder of the team’s upside, with Kawhi Leonard looking more like his old self and Paul George no longer on a minutes restriction, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Asked about his strong outing after scoring a season-high 25 points, Leonard stressed that he’s more concerned about where he’s at in the spring than where he’s at right now. “I’m focusing on the end of the year,” Leonard said. “Playoff basketball. Doesn’t matter about tonight.”
  • There’s still no specific timeline for Norman Powell‘s return to the court, tweets Mark Medina of NBA.com. Powell, who has missed the Clippers‘ last seven games due to a left groin strain, has done some individual workouts as part of his recovery process, per head coach Tyronn Lue.
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