Russell Westbrook has long been a fascinating figure in the NBA. He plays the game with such force that it’s impossible not to notice him at almost all times on the court, both for better and for worse.
Westbrook is a Rorschach test for NBA observers, with some more willing to look at the positives that have elevated every team he’s played on to the postseason, while others can’t help but see the shortcomings that have kept those teams from championship runs. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but even fellow NBA players can’t help but have varying views on the Westbrook experience.
Back in the summer of 2019, Kawhi Leonard was the biggest free agent on the market, fresh off a title in Toronto that had some people buzzing about whether he had a claim to the title of the best player in the league. The Raptors were in the mix to retain him, but the allure of going home to Los Angeles also existed, with both the Lakers and the Clippers in pursuit. Apparently, the draw of going home wasn’t just appealing to Leonard, as other L.A. native stars saw Kawhi as their possible ticket home.
Among them was Russell Westbrook, who according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, called Leonard that summer to discuss the possibility of uniting forces to go play for the Clippers.
Kawhi, however, had other ideas.
Teaming up with Leonard would be the fastest way there, so he placed the call, according to multiple sources. But Leonard didn’t just take the call as one native son of Los Angeles to another, ponder it and file it away.
He used it.
According to multiple sources, Leonard then called Westbrook’s teammate in Oklahoma City, Paul George, and told him he’d rather team up with him on a homecoming.
The rest, as they say, is history, with George getting on board with Kawhi’s plan and requesting the trade that sent he and Leonard to the Clippers for a bevy of assets going back to Oklahoma City. Westbrook, in the meantime, has bounced from OKC to Houston to Washington to, now finally, home in Los Angeles with the Lakers.
It is a rather sensational story and maybe the best example we’ve ever gotten of Leonard’s on-court ruthlessness bleeding over into his off-court dealings. To not only take that call and recognize there was an opportunity to pull off a move such as this, but to then use it to pry Westbrook’s teammate away to join him is incredible. Shelburne says George was happy to stay in OKC because of his relationship with Westbrook, but learning that Westbrook was likewise considering a way out, he couldn’t not take the opportunity to join forces with Kawhi.