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It goes without saying that Wednesday night was a franchise-changing night for the Washington Wizards.
Trading John Wall, a man who is near and dear to so many people in Washington, changed so much overnight. Wall was as loved as any athlete in D.C. has ever been, and he always will be. What he means goes beyond basketball, and one day his number two jersey will hang in the rafters at Capital One Arena.
But as one era ended in the nation’s capital, another begins with the acquisition of nine-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook.
The electric future Hall of Fame point guard reunites with his head coach in Oklahoma City, Scott Brooks, the man who gave him his first chance in the NBA. When Westbrook was a young, skinny kid from UCLA, Brooks let him play through mistakes and figure out how to make it in the NBA. Even when they went separate ways in 2015, their relationship never dissipated.
“The greatest thing about me and Scotty’s relationship is we’ve always stayed connected,” Westbrook said on Saturday. “We’ve stayed in contact the whole time…I’m super excited to be back and continue our friendship, obviously.”
“I’m excited for what he’s going to bring to our program – the leadership, work ethic, his daily habits on and off the court,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be critical for our young guys to see…I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He just has a great spirit about him. He loves the game, he loves his teammates, and I know first-hand what he’s going to bring.”
The walking triple double that is Russell Westbrook joins the Wizards after completing his ninth All-NBA season and 11th year overall, averaging 27.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game on a career best 47.2% from the field.
“There’s 28 people in history that have been an All-NBA player at least nine times,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “There’s four players active in the NBA currently that have been All-NBA team at least nine times: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. His resume speaks for itself.”
Along with 30-point per game scorer Bradley Beal, the Wizards backcourt is now without question one of the most dangerous backcourts in the East. The two All-Star players project to be a lethal combination of playmaking, but also will be leaders on and off the court to guide a young Wizards team. They know each other a bit off the court, but their relationship is about to blossom into something paramount to the future of the franchise.
“They’re determined guys,” Brooks said on Friday, “they have a big-time drive in their work ethic, their professionalism, what they’re about off the court. There’s a lot of things — they remind me of each other. There’s going to be some figuring out to do with myself and my staff. But they’re about sacrificing. We know, if we want to get to the place we want to get to, we have to sacrifice. It’s going to take an entire 15-man roster to make some sacrifices, where we want to get to.”
“I’m super excited by it,” Westbrook explained. “Brad is a superstar talent. He proved and showed that last year. My job is to uplift him, try to push him to be better.”
“Me watching Brad and seeing and competing against him for years,” Westbrook continued, “I’ve always been a huge fan of his game because he goes and competes. He’s like a silent assassin.”
When Westbrook arrived to Washington on Friday, he walked into the MedStar Wizards Performance Center greeting every person he saw and learning names. He was greeted by Sheppard and reunited with former Thunder coaches like Brooks, Robert Pack, Mike Terpstra and Jarell Christian, along with medical staff members.
“I think once I got traded here, obviously there are so many familiar faces here,” Westbrook said. “Not just that, an organization that is in the path of trying to do the right things culturally, trying to do the right things in the community, trying to do the right things on the basketball court.”
Westbrook then left the facility to take his physical and later get a tour of Capital One Arena. The Wizards greeted him with welcome graphics on all of the screens in the arena, giving him a proper welcome.
The trade was officially completed 15 minutes before practice started on Saturday. Since he didn’t have enough lead time to warm up and get ready, Westbrook instead sat on the side watching. As Brooks mentioned in his post-practice media, Westbrook brought energy and friendly banter. On Sunday and beyond, Westbrook will bring his competitive spirit and leadership every single day.
“Our job is to protect him, make sure that he’s comfortable, making sure he knows the system, making sure he fits well with us,” Beal said. “We want to make him feel comfortable here. That’s my job and that’s everybody else’s job, too.”