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An unapologetic Russell Westbrook is ready for new challenge with Wizards

It's a new chapter for the former Kia MVP, who heads to the East for the first time.

Russell Westbrook speaks at his introductory news conference in D.C. (Photo via @WashWizards)

Russell Westbrook has been at this business of basketball long enough to know that authenticity rules.

You can’t cheat yourself or the game.

It just doesn’t work.

So he’s bringing all the same things that have made him one of the league’s best and most mercurial talents over the course of his 12 seasons in the league to Washington.

The non-stop intensity. The breathtaking plays, the breakneck speed and explosiveness. The snarl. The no-friends-in-other-uniforms mantra. The deep roots in the community and the off-court impact it produces. He packed it all.

The blockbuster trade, which sent John Wall and a protected first-round Draft pick to Houston, provided a new place for Westbrook to start his 13th season. He promised Saturday that it’ll be a familiar grind, though it will begin with a new jersey number (he’s going from his customary 0 to his pre-NBA staple, 4).

He hasn’t practiced with the Wizards yet, but he’s already studied his situation and prepared himself for the challenge of helping Bradley Beal end the organization’s playoff drought at just two seasons.

Westbrook reunites with Scott Brooks in move to Wizards

“I’m super excited about it man,” Westbrook said on a Saturday afternoon Zoom call with reporters, his first public words since the trade went down. “Brad is a superstar talent. He proved that and showed that last year with what he had. And he’s only going to get better. My job is to come in here and continue to uplift him and push him to be better. And that’s all I’m here for. And I’m happy to be his counterpart and to try and make the game easier for him and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Westbrook will ease into a situation with numerous familiar faces, from head coach Scott Brooks (who coached him from 2008-15 in Oklahoma City) to assistant coach Robert Pack and various members of the Wizards’ training and medical staffs who also worked with the Thunder in the past.

The difference, of course, is Russell was a much younger player then and in a completely different phase of his career.

The methods might have been tweaked a bit over the years, a fact both Westbrook and Brooks acknowledged. But the discipline, diligence and goals have remained.

Beal on Wall’s departure: ‘It’s been an emotional week’

“The great thing about me and Scotty’s relationship is we always stayed connected. We always stayed in contact throughout my whole career,” Westbrook said. “Scotty was a huge part of the reason I’m able to do some of the things I’m able to do now. He gave me an opportunity and a chance to go out and make silly mistakes, some of the same mistakes I make today. He allowed me to do that and I’m grateful for that because I learned so much about myself, about my game, who I am as a player. And I’m just happy and excited to be back with him and to continue, obviously our friendship, and also be on the basketball court together.”

Brooks said the growth Westbrook has shown on the court has mirrored his tremendous growth off the court as a husband, father and one of the most active players in the league in terms of what he gives back to the community, back in his hometown of Los Angeles as well as Oklahoma City and Houston.

“The greatest thing I always take away from playing days and even my coaching days is to see the maturity and the growth of every player or teammate and seeing them become husbands and fathers and all of that,” Brooks said. “Getting to reminisce with them about their families, their kids, their successes, off the court, to me is really cool. And to be able to do that and see that with all the players I’ve coached, with Brad and his two kids and with Russell and his three kids and his wife, just to see that all evolve is really, really cool.

“Because remember, I had Russell when he was 20 years old, he didn’t know a lot about the ins and outs of being a husband and a dad. But you could just see it. My daughter always sends me clips from Instagram and all the stuff that’s out there on social media. And it’s really cool to see it. Like I said yesterday, he definitely has not improved his singing. I saw the one video where he was singing with all three of his kids … but to me, that’s the biggest, the most important thing. The growth that I’ve seen over the last few years and it’s the coolest thing I’ve seen as well.”

The experience of building the Thunder into a team capable of playing in The Finals, as they did in 2012 with Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden — all future Kia MVPs — is the sort of bonding experience that lasts a lifetime.

Best of Russell Westbrook from 2019-20 season

But this Wizards team is embarking on a completely different journey with a roster filled with inexperienced players (13 players have 3 or fewer years of NBA experience) still searching for their own niche in the league.

That’s a challenge Westbrook knows well and one that he’ll be expected to facilitate for guys like second-year forward Rui Hachimura and rookie forward Deni Avdija, while also pushing, with Beal, to get the Wizards back into the postseason mix.

And that’s where Westbrook’s on-court staples — his trademark competitiveness and seemingly boundless energy, even at 32 — become his tools of choice.

“I’m genuine, I’m a guy who likes to have fun and I also love to give, to give back,” Westbrook said. “And I think that’s a big thing for me just because the way I play the game, it kind of misconstrues for people who I am as a person and what I believe in and what I stand on. But obviously how I play and off the floor is two different people. When I’m on the floor, you’re right, I don’t have any friends, I’m not trying to be friendly. I’m trying to bust somebody’s [expletive]. I ain’t got time to try to shake hands and do all that. I don’t have time for it, and I’m never changing that.”

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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