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Lakers' Russell Westbrook says Kobe Bryant 'will be with' him

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Lakers' Russell Westbrook says Kobe Bryant 'will be with' him
All-Star guard Russell Westbrook (pictured) said he plans to improve his game while playing alongside Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Russell Westbrook described his goals and fit with the Los Angeles Lakers during his introductory news conference with the franchise. The nine-time All-Star also said the late Kobe Bryant "will be with" him every game.

Westbrook, who grew up in Los Angeles, spoke to reporters Tuesday at UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, Calif. The Lakers announced his trade from the Washington Wizards on Friday.

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Westbrook joins fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis as part of the NBA's newest star trio. He called the Lakers roster "amazing" and said he plans to "figure it out," when it comes to meshing his style of play with James and Davis.

"LeBron is one of the best players to play this game," Westbrook told reporters. "His ability to be able to do kind of everything on the floor allows me to be able to just figure it out.

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"I'm coming to a championship-caliber team. My job is to make sure that I'm able to make his game easy for him. I'll find ways to do that throughout the game.

"As it pertains to ball handling and all of that, it really doesn't matter. There are many ways you can impact the game without having the ball in your hands. I've been able to do that for many years. I will figure it out."

Westbrook went to high school in Lawndale, Calif. He attended UCLA and entered the league as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Westbrook spent his first 11 seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he played with Kevin Durant and James Harden.

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He rejoined Harden in 2019-20 through a trade to the Houston Rockets. Westbrook teamed up with Bradley Beal last season with the Wizards.

None of those previous stops resulted in a title for the 2016-17 NBA MVP and 13-year veteran, but Westbrook said he used the experiences to "improve" his game.

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"I always want to stay true to who I am. But with that, making sure I'm willing to listen and be all ears," Westbrook said. "I'm coming to an unbelievable organization, team and players I'm able to learn from.

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"Each year, I try to find things I can learn and help improve my game and be a better player. I will do that here as well."

Westbrook was close friends with Bryant, who died on Jan. 26, 2020. He said he always dreamed of playing for the Lakers and often spoke about that possibility with late NBA legend.

"There are things we talked about and the potential of me to be able to be a Laker and understanding what that entails," Westbrook said.

"It's crazy to think about and that will be with me every time I put the Lakers jersey on."

Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, a league-high 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game last season. He also logged triple-double averages from 2015-16 through 2018-19. Westbrook led the NBA in assists per game in three of the past four seasons.

The Lakers won the NBA Finals in 2019-20, but lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last postseason. James averaged 25 points, 7.8 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game in 2020-21. He also tied a career-high with 27 games missed due to injury.

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Davis averaged 21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He missed a career-high 36 games due to injury.

The Lakers responded to last season's struggles with several transactions. They sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and the draft rights to Isaiah Jackson to the Wizards in exchange for Westbrook and three second-round draft picks.

They also acquired Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Kendrick Nunn, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk and re-signed Talen Horton-Tucker. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters Tuesday that the Westbrook acquisition and additional moves were made with one goal in mind.

"It was an opportunity to make an aggressive move that we thought bettered our probability to bring an 18th title to the Lakers," Pelinka said.

"This was an opportunity to maximize the ability to do what we're obsessed to do and that's to bring an 18th title to this city."

The Lakers start the pre-season against Durant's Brooklyn Nets at 3:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 3 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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