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Lakers' Austin Reaves: Russell Westbrook is 'one of the best teammates'

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Russell Westbrook's one-and-a-half year stint with the Los Angeles Lakers obviously didn't go as planned, which led to the former NBA MVP getting traded to the Utah Jazz, who ultimately bought him out. This cleared the way for Westbrook to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers back in February.

Westbrook struggled throughout his time with the Lakers, but he played much better after joining the Clippers. The team was clearly impressed with Westbrook's contributions, as they re-signed Westbrook on a two-year, $8 million contract earlier this offseason.

Westbrook clearly didn't fit with the Lakers' personnel, and he seems to feel that he wasn't utilized correctly while donning the purple and gold. But how was Westbrook as a teammate during his stint with the Lakers? What kind of presence was he off the court and in the locker room?

Recently, on the "All The Smoke" podcast, Lakers guard Austin Reaves was asked about his experience playing with Westbrook, with former NBA veteran Matt Barnes noting that Westbrook gets a bad rap from outsiders. Reaves had nothing but praise for the nine-time All-Star.

"He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had," Reaves said. "As a person, you can’t get much better. I got COVID in December of my rookie year in Minnesota, and I was stuck there for like seven days. It was rough, but he reached out like three or four times, asked me if I needed anything, offered to send me stuff, whatever I needed. So as a person, you couldn’t get better. And same as a teammate. He was always empowering everybody to really be better and do better. Like you said, he gets a bad rap, and I don’t really understand why."

This isn’t the first time that the narrative about Westbrook hasn't lined up with what his teammates and coaches say about him.

Bradley Beal, who played with Westbrook on the Washington Wizards, has raved about Westbrook "as a leader, as a player, as a father, as a man."

“He’s the best teammate, probably, I’ve ever had," Beal said. "And just in terms of leadership, probably one of the best leaders I’ve been around. Because he holds himself accountable. He holds himself to a certain standard.”

Paul George, who plays with Westbrook on the Clippers and who previously teamed up with Russ on the Oklahoma City Thunder, explained what makes Westbrook such a great teammate and leader.

"One thing with Russ is that he had a special relationship with everybody on the team," George said on his podcast. "He would have a conversation with Steve-o (Steven Adams) about New Zealand stuff, rugby, and then he'll have a conversation with me about fishing, then he'll have a conversation with Jerami Grant on anime. He just had a connection with everybody on the team where [once] you get on the floor, it was chemistry. 'This dude really knows me, he really rocking with me. Hell yeah, I wanna play for him, I'm bought in.'

"I thought that was really special. I've never seen that. Usually the star players, they're not assholes, but they have a special relationship with three or four guys, and the rest is just like, 'Oh yeah, that's my teammate.' Russ was like... everybody was his boy. It was dope, it was the craziest thing I've witnessed... But talk about leadership, Russ was a leader, man."

Scott Brooks, who coached Westbrook in Washington and Oklahoma City, spoke to Basketball News' Jannelle Moore two years ago about the negativity surrounding Russ and how he's misunderstood.

“He does incredible work off the court. He’s a great role model. He’s a great father, husband, brother, son. He does a lot of great things and, for some reason, that doesn’t always match up to the narrative that’s out there," Brooks said. "I think everybody should appreciate all the things that he brings and the talent he has and the energy and the effort that he brings every night.

"That’s what everybody should be focused on. We all know what sells. We’ve been hearing about it since I came into the league: negativity sells. Sometimes when you don’t want to do a deep dive, [you’ll] take someone else’s opinion and continue to re-write what you’ve heard and what you’ve read. I think that’s a mistake by the parties that do that."

Juan Toscano-Anderson admits that he didn't like Westbrook before they were teammates. But after playing alongside Russ on the Lakers, everything changed.

"It's funny because before I met Russ, I didn't really like Russ. And I think a lot of people have that type of lens about Russ just because he's so competitive," Toscano-Anderson said. "From the little time that I've known Russ... I've had some great teammates, [but] Russ is probably in my top-five [or] top-three teammates I've ever had. He's an amazing teammate and an amazing person."

At this stage of his career, Westbrook's resume is extremely impressive: a former NBA MVP, nine-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA selection, three-time assist champion and two-time scoring champion. He's a member of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, and he'll almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. And regardless of the narratives and negativity, he'll also go down as an all-time great teammate.

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