When a star comes to Los Angeles, we don’t lack for quotes. Russell Westbrook has already raved about LeBron James’s work ethic, claimed that lineups with Anthony Davis at center are going to be “deadly,” and made vague allusions to the “sacrifices” it’s going to take to win a championship. None of it is particularly noteworthy, just happy optimistic preseason chatter that may or may not be realized once the games start to count.  

It’s kind of endearing, to listen to these upsettingly accomplished superhumans talk about the upcoming year the same way you talk about shedding five to eight pounds, painting a dilapidated bench that’s been sitting in your garage for three years. I bought a really nice sweater the other day—an off-white number with a spare pattern of embroidered flowers—and I feel like I could get up behind a microphone and tell Dave McMenamin that “I think this is going to open up a whole new lane for me, wardrobe-wise.” By Friday, I will be in the grocery store bearing across my appalling body a puke-green buttondown, wandering the aisles like a middle-class vagrant in search of beer and English muffins, but it is nice to think that I’ll always be put together, from now on. It’s good to have a mind that’s off-white with pretty little flowers embroidered on it, for a while.

My favorite Russ quote from the preseason buffet is his claim that he adores Pau Gasol. “Very few people know this, but Pau was actually my favorite player growing up. Before Kobe… I just liked how he played the game. He was a big man, I know... but he played the right way. He could pass it, shoot it, he could score.” (Insert joke here about how all this tracks because Russ is essentially a 6-foot-3 center.) As much as I love the notion of Westbrook having such a deep appreciation of the game that he developed a basketball crush on a 7-foot-1 post-up artist with uncommon court vision, Pau was playing in Memphis when Russ was in high school, and Russ’s family didn’t have cable, so he barely saw Pau at all before he came to Los Angeles in 2008, at which point Westbrook was in his second and final year at UCLA. These are fascinating forensics, I’m sure. Not an attempt to catch Russ in a lie, that’s hardly important. What’s interesting is that he 1.) sweetly feels a need to ingratiate himself to his hometown fans, and 2.) likes to think of himself, if only for the space of a single press conference, as a Pau Gasol Guy. 

The concept of Late Era Westbrook is intriguing because it feels like it’s never, ever going to happen. At least not a graceful late era, not one in which he accepts his limitations, the deleterious effects of advancing age, the principles of rudimentary defensive rotations, the fact that simply because the jumper feels right doesn’t mean you should take it. You get the idea that Russell Westbrook is constitutionally doomed to do boneheaded stuff, in addition to everything else that he brings. He’s 32 but as wise as a kid with a fake ID and 80 dollars in his pocket. This is not the same thing as being dumb. It’s bone-deep heedlessness. You’ve got friends like this, they’re alright guys. Totally forgivable, provided you’re not rooting for Russ’s team when they’re down three with 45 seconds to play. 

But Pau Gasol: an antidote! There was an intelligent player. Maybe a little too smart for his own on-court good. Not soft—you are definitively not soft, if you take as many elbows in the ribs as Pau did—but too thoughtful or too decent. Actually, here is a link between Pau and Russ, their shared problem: both of them have felt too much. Is Russ spitting nonsense when he says he’s a Pau acolyte? Yeah, probably. But if he could borrow some of the lanky Spaniard’s ability to play wild—just a forest of limbs by himself, Pau was—while also being contained, being aware, being sensitive to what his teammates need at any given moment, that would be incredible. A tamèd Russ, ferocious yet under his own control. An exhilarating concept.

Don’t bet on it. I don’t think anyone is. But each new stop in our careers seem, at least for a little while, like the beginning of something profoundly new, the birth of a fresh self. That’s typically an illusion but it’s such a pleasant one that you wouldn’t begrudge anybody for savoring that sensation, especially if part of their job involves fielding questions from a local press that’s going to eat that kind of sentiment up. So yes, sure, Russell Westbrook is at home once again in Los Angeles, here to bring the Lakers their latest and most special championship. He’s drawing strength and spiritual instruction from memories of his childhood hero, Pau Gasol. Why not live in that world for a while? It’s mid-October, this is the time for it. You are a person, like Russ or anybody else. You understand. If you thought you would be exactly yourself for every moment of your life, you wouldn’t be able to stand it.

Eleven Other Characters: Zach LaVine | John Collins | Domantas Sabonis | Bam Adebayo | Devin Booker | Draymond Green | Julius Randle | Kyrie Irving | Khris Middleton | CJ McCollum | Joel Embiid