Sure it’s the off-season, but we’re still talking hoops. Think of it as getting warmed up for the upcoming tipoff. Today, Shaq’s ideas on how one big-name star can amp up his on-court performance with O’Neal’s former team, the LA Lakers.
In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Shaq talked about what various Lakers players can do to show up bigger after last season’s disappointing results. Shaq was most interested in talking about one Russell Westbrook and his – shall we say – struggles last season.
Simply put, Shaq says Westbrook was too nice in the way he played with other Lakers superstars, namely LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Shaq says Westbrook seems to have played differently this past season, and what wasn’t a good thing.
Shaq: “I don’t think it was his age. I think he was just, and I say this respectfully, I just think he was showing too much respect. I don’t care who I’m playing with it, I’m giving you 28. Fans pay a lot of money for me to make $100 million, I’m giving you 28.” BTW, when Shaq says “28,” he’s talking about PPG – points per game.
Shaq said it seemed Westbrook was looking to dish out the ball way too often. “He can play, too, so when I got the ball, I’m gonna do my thing. I can’t do my thing, I’m looking for him. That’s how you got to play. You just can’t concede all the time — here, here, here. Nah, throw me the ball, let me go to work. I gotta average 28 and 15 for personal reasons and for these fans.”
More from Shaq on RW’s style of play: “He was just being too nice. I don’t know the relationship between him and LeBron, but if you put that down on paper and I don’t know nothing about basketball, that’s a hell of a backcourt, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Why it didn’t work, I don’t know, but watching him play, he was super passive. I don’t need you to be passive, I need you to play your game. I’ll be calling plays, when you get the ball after they miss a shot, run, if you ain’t got nothin, pull it out, give it to LeBron, and call some plays. That’s how it was me, he was just thinking too much. He’s a guy that, when he plays freely, he’s a monster.”
Westbrook did not have a bad season last campaign, but it wasn’t great, either. He finished the season averaging 18.5 points per game. Still, that was the first time he’s averaged under 20.0 points per contest since the 2009-10 season. In addition, he also saw lower numbers in rebounding and assist averages.
In prior years (and with previous teams), Westbrook was a scoring and dishing leader, delivering triple-doubles on a nightly basis. O’Neal says it seems Westbrook is spending too much time thinking about those prior seasons rather than just playing with abandon.
Like LeBron, time is catching up with Westbrook, who turns 34 in November. This year will be his 15th NBA regular season. As for his time with the Lakers…who knows? This upcoming season will be the last of his current contract, valued at about $47 million. If the Lakers were interested in moving him to another team, that contract is a big pill to swallow for another, perhaps less well-endowed franchise.
It’s not long until the tipoff of this year’s new NBA season. We’ll know soon enough if Westbrook is ready to – once again – play all-out, at his old superstar level.