Russell Westbrook still wants to win Sixth Man of the Year despite becoming Clippers starter, report says

Russell Westbrook’s willingness to come off the bench has been one of the hottest topics of the 2022 NBA offseason. Last season he was benched for crunch time, giving one of the weirdest end-of-season press conferences you’ll ever see ever and started the first three games of this season for the Los Angeles Lakers under Darwin Hamm. When it quickly became apparent that he no longer made sense to start, Westbrook was demoted to the bench.

Whether his time there was successful is ultimately up for debate. Westbrook quickly became the betting favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year, but the Lakers never hit .500 with him on the team this season. Lineups with and without him performed similarly, his penchant for turnovers and poor shot selection persisted and he was often benched late in games.

Now Westbrook’s brief stint as a backup is, for now, over. The Lakers traded Westbrook to the Utah Jazz in February, and after receiving a buyout, he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and joined their starting lineup. However, according to TNT’s Chris Haynes, Westbrook still wants to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Haynes explained this on the air after the Clippers’ loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

“Russell Westbrook has come off the bench for the Lakers for 49 of 52 games. That would still qualify him for Sixth Man of the Year. I was able to talk to him this morning and even though he will be starting the rest of the way as projected for the Clippers, he told me it’s an award he wants,” Haynes reported. “He said, ‘look, I did a lot to buy into the system there with the Lakers,’ and he said he felt like he had a lot of success and bought what the team wanted. And he said if he was in a position to get the award, that would just be the icing on the cake.”

No sixth winner of the year has changed teams in the middle of a season. In fact, Westbrook checks some of the boxes that a typical Sixth Man Award winner would. The league’s leading bench scorer has won 10 of the last 17 Sixth Man of the Year awards. Westbrook trailed current teammate Norman Powell and Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin for most of the season. The award is usually given to players on playoff teams. The Lakers were outside the top 10 in the Western Conference when Westbrook played for them.

Beyond that, it’s hard to reconcile his candidacy for any major award given how his tenure with the Lakers ended. “I’d almost say if Russell Westbrook hadn’t been traded yesterday, there was a decent chance the Lakers would have sent him home,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told First Take after he dealt Utah. Westbrook and Hamm had a heated exchange in his final game as a Laker because Westbrook remained on the floor after being ejected. A source described Westbrook ESPN’s Dave McMenamin as a “vampire” in the Lakers locker room.

Westbrook may have come off the bench as a Laker, but all indications are that it wasn’t exactly his choice. It was either that or he disappeared and waited for a trade, and once he came off the bench, he didn’t seem thrilled about it, and the team didn’t exactly seem thrilled to have him. Both sides made the best of a bad situation. Neither side should receive an award for this.

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