While James Harden was AWOL for the start of Rockets training camp this weekend, his ex-teammate Russell Westbrook made his presence felt with an emphatic start to his Washington tenure, arriving hours early for his first Wizards practice on Sunday. The nine-time All-Star never took his foot off the gas, impressing coaches with his trademark intensity.
“This was not because it was the first day,” coach Scott Brooks told Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “This is who he is, this is how he prepares, this is how he gets ready. He’s always like that." Brooks, who described Westbrook’s demeanor as “intense,” noted the 32-year-old was routinely the first one in the building when he coached him in Oklahoma City.
Westbrook only lasted a year in Houston, joining the Wizards last week in a swap of veteran point guards. Along with John Wall, who is slated to return from a two-year injury absence, the Rockets also netted a first-round draft pick in 2023. While Westbrook’s trade request was granted, the Rockets haven’t afforded the same courtesy to Harden, who apparently is eyeing a reunion with former teammate Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.
The Wizards are coming off an ugly 25-47 finish in 2020, though pairing Westbrook, a former MVP and second to only Magic Johnson in career triple doubles, with Bradley Beal, the NBA’s second-leading scorer a year ago, could vault Washington into the Eastern Conference playoff conversation.
Not fazed by the change of scenery, Westbrook set the tone early in his first practice, challenging teammates to match his energy level. “Go out and compete and play hard, that’s the biggest thing,” said Westbrook, who averaged a crisp 27.2 points per game as Harden’s sidekick last season. “We are going to strive to win a championship and we can as long as we put our effort and our energy and sacrifice our time, our minds and our bodies to be able to do it.”
Westbrook will make his Washington debut, sporting a new number (he reverted to his high school No. 4 in deference to Wizards great Gilbert Arenas), against the Sixers on December 23rd.