Jeanie Buss walks back comment calling Russell Westbrook the Lakers' 'best player last year'

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, 
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Russell Westbrook was not the Lakers' best player last season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There is no shortage of ways to demonstrate that Russell Westbrook's first season with the Los Angeles Lakers was a disaster, but Jeanie Buss provided yet another on Tuesday.

In an interview with The Athletic's Sam Amick, the Lakers controlling owner made a rather curious claim about Westbrook's first year in Los Angeles. She said he was the best player on the Lakers, citing his effort level and ability to stay on the court.

From The Athletic:

"All I can say is that, from my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year. He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy. It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team."

To put it politely, Lakers fans are going to disagree with that statement.

Westbrook was the biggest lightning rod in a stormy season for the Lakers, acquired with the hope of providing a third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis but ultimately proved to be an awful match for the team's roster. With the ball often out of his hands when James was playing, Westbrook's well-established flaws — his historically awful 3-point shooting, his ugly turnovers, his so-so defense — became even more visible. A clear feud with the since-fired Frank Vogel didn't help.

The season was so bad that Buss' comment legitimately confused Amick, who reached out to Buss after the interview to make sure she meant what she said:

Yes, as you might imagine, I did a double take when Jeanie shared her viewpoint that Westbrook was the best the Lakers had to offer last season. By most accounts — yours truly included — his debut season with the Lakers was an unmitigated disaster.

So after the interview ended, when I realized that I’d failed to follow up quickly enough to get total clarity on this stunning take, I decided to send Buss a note asking if this was her actual belief.

“The word I should have used was ‘consistent,’” she wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”

For better or worse, Buss is right. Westbrook was consistent.

Russell Westbrook was indeed consistent. Now the Lakers want him to change

Last season, the Lakers often found themselves playing without James and/or Davis, while Westbrook was on the court and decidedly, defiantly himself nearly every game. It clearly didn't work, for myriad reasons.

Whether that will be true next season is up to the Lakers and, ultimately, Westbrook.

While the Lakers have looked into trading Westbrook, no team has jumped at the chance to acquire the point guard and his $47 million salary next season. In the meantime, James and Davis have met with Westbrook and pledged to try to make things work, as you would hope, while new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has spoken about changing Westbrook's role on the team and redoubling his efforts on defense.

That all sounds nice, but the awkward fact is that Westbrook is 33 years old and has faced these criticisms for a while. Even when he's changed teams three times in the last four years, Westbrook has stayed himself, only getting steadily worse as he ventures into the wrong side of 30. Maybe Ham really is that good and the Lakers' leadership wins out, but expecting Westbrook to accept a smaller role and become more efficient is akin to Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football at this point.

Outside of Westbrook, the Lakers have retooled their roster with acquisitions including Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV, Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant and Juan Toscano-Anderson. It is, overall, a younger group at least, but we'll see if it works any better with Westbrook and a healthy Davis and James.