Russell Westbrook said it was just another game for him. But it wasn’t. For the first time since March 10, Westbrook made his return to the Toyota Center. But instead of representing the hometown team with the Houston Rockets. Westbrook stood on the visitor’s side of the court as a member of the Washington Wizards.
In some instances, it is easy to understand why Westbrook would consider this just another game. He has played a total of 22 games inside the Toyota Center as a visitor. But his 23rd appearance was different. There weren’t any boos or heckles coming from the stands stating that James Harden was the real MVP in 2017. There was applause and cheering. Love and appreciation. A tribute video that welcomed Westbrook back to Houston as a former Rocket.
Tuesday marked the first time Westbrook played in Houston after he was traded to Washington in December. His successor in the trade had a phenomenal performance to spoil Westbrook’s homecoming in a 107-88 win for the Rockets. John Wall scored a team-high 24 points to send a message to the organization he felt gave up on him. Wall’s night consisted of a left-handed behind the back layup. Westbrook’s night consisted of an air-ball shot from behind the arc and a game-high six turnovers. The loss left Westbrook echoing a familiar phrase after the Wizards fell to 3-10 on the season.
“We just have to figure it out. Everybody is playing in different positions, and we have guys who are playing more minutes than they ever had in their lives. We just have to figure it out. There isn’t too much we can do.” — Westbrook
The Rockets played a Wizards team that has been hit the hardest by the pandemic. This was only Washington’s second game since Jan. 11, after six consecutive postponements due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Although short-handed, a Westbrook and Bradley Beal backcourt should be enough to keep the Wizards from suffering a nearly 20-point loss. Right?
After all, the Wizards did take the court with a future Hall-of-Famer and the current NBA scoring leader.
Getting a bit chippy here with John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Double techs handed out. pic.twitter.com/2BL1sfaWNr— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) January 27, 2021
Westbrook’s performance fell short of the high expectations in his return to Houston — similar to his lone season with the Rockets. He scored 19 points while shooting 7-for-17 from the field and looked far from his signature explosive self. The Wizards had expectations that adding Westbrook would prevent a disappointed Beal from turning into another meme. But a wasted 34-point effort did the complete opposite.
During his introductory press conference following the trade, Westbrook said his goal is to make the game easier for Beal. But again, Westbrook’s performance against the Rockets was another failed expectation.
“Brad is a superstar talent. He proved that last year. My job is to come in and continue to uplift him and try to make him better. I am happy to be his counterpart and will try to make the game easier for him. That is what I will try to do.” — Westbrook
However, his most notable unfulfilled expectation took place beyond the court. For 28 minutes, Westbrook took directions under the stewardship of Scott Brooks rather than Stephen Silas.
When Silas took the role as the Rockets’ next head coach, he did so under the assumption that Westbrook would be his starting point guard. Silas said Westbrook vouched for him to get the job during his introductory press conference on Nov. 5. A month later, Westbrook was shipped to Washington after demanding a trade out of Houston.
“At the time I was apart of the Rockets organization. A part of my job with us getting a new head coach was to talk to him and get an understanding of his goals and aspirations. With him being a first-time head coach, I was just listening and understanding the things that he wanted. We are fine. We have a great relationship. And I know he is going to do an amazing job as a head coach.” — Westbrook
It’s not that Westbrook isn’t talented anymore. He still possesses the same talent that made him an MVP in Oklahoma City and gave Houston championship aspirations last February. However, the reality of the situation is that Westbrook isn’t healthy. He is still dealing with a feeble quad, and the injury has sideline Westbrook for four games so far this season.
Anytime an organization adds a player of Westbrook’s stature, their arrival changes the expectation. Just making the playoffs is no longer the pinnacle of success. A deep run into the playoffs for a chance to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy becomes the goal.
Westbrook failed to meet those expectations last season with the Rockets. And after nine games into the 2021 season with the Wizards, it appears that Westbrook may fall short again.