Russell Westbrook would be punishment for the Bulls’ sin of underperforming

The team’s interest in the divisive guard is bad reflection on the Big Three and VP Arturas Karnisovas.

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Russell Westbrook looking on during a Lakers game last month.

The Bulls reportedly are interested in guard Russell Westbrook.

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I’ve been racking my brain for days trying to understand why the Bulls would have an interest in signing the fractious Russell Westbrook. They do, apparently. That was the first possible explanation, that it was a bad rumor with no foundation in truth.

But assuming the speculation is true, why in the world would the team want someone as polarizing as Westbrook? “Energy’’ is the fashionable answer to that question. It’s the one that has been bandied about in the Bulls-sphere. Even at 34, he could bring electricity to an unplugged, unresponsive roster, we’re told.

Or maybe the Bulls think he’ll suddenly morph into a generous-to-a-fault point guard. Could that be it? Have they gotten word of some sort of late-career epiphany?

Sorry, no. Nothing about this possible pairing makes sense, basketball-wise.

And that’s it. That’s the answer. Westbrook as a Bull doesn’t make sense in any concrete way, but it does make sense as a cosmic judgment.

Russell Westbrook would be punishment.

He’d be punishment for a badly underperforming team. He’d be punishment for Bulls players who talk about how much they enjoy playing with each other but can’t win with each other. He’d be punishment for the group failure of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, who were supposed to be so much more and haven’t been.

If Westbrook takes a buyout from the Jazz and comes to Chicago, it means a formerly great player and a forever pain in the butt will be moving into the Bulls’ locker room. You get what you deserve in the NBA, and LaVine & Co. deserve whatever strife and friction Westbrook would bring. A lot is the guess here.

This would be punishment for Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas, too, which might seem odd, given that he’d be the one signing Westbrook. But he’s the man who built this team, and maybe he believes he deserves to be flogged.

Westbrook doesn’t help teams. He puts them in jams. He’s a once-supremely talented player who has a hard time being anything but what he was born to be on a basketball court: the center of attention. Does that sound like the solution for whatever ails the Bulls?

He’s a brand, not the missing piece to a puzzle. He’s much more James Harden than he is Jrue Holiday. He’s not even close to the triple-double machine he used to be. He forgot how to shoot when he was with the Lakers. The Bulls dearly need a three-point shooter, and this is whom they’ve come up with for an answer?

If they’re desperate enough to sign Westbrook now, they should have been desperate enough to break up the Big Three at the trade deadline last week. The very idea of adding him to the roster should be an indication to Karnisovas that something is very, very wrong with his team. Westbrook is the universal sign that all is lost and that you might want to get your affairs in order.

LaVine and Westbrook coexisting? It’s hard to imagine.

Westbrook played from 2015 to 2019 for Bulls coach Billy Donovan when both were with Oklahoma City. That included three of the four seasons Westbrook averaged a triple-double. That was a different player. Back then, he was difficult for opponents to guard and difficult for teammates to coexist with. Now? He’s not as difficult for opponents.

Donovan has taken great pains to let everyone know how much his players care. Their mediocrity is not a result of apathy, he says. Maybe not, but I think we can all agree that the Bulls are deeply flawed. LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic are talented players. They aren’t a successful trio, though, and none of the compliments pouring out of Donovan’s mouth have changed that.

Logic is taking a beating these days. It doesn’t follow that, because nothing else has worked for the Bulls, ridiculous is worth a try. Just because the Bulls aren’t winning as much as they should be, it doesn’t follow that Westbrook’s arrival would change that. One thing is certain: There will be an increase in hard feelings. Donovan has his own system and his own offense. Westbrook will smile at it, say something like, “That’s nice,’’ and do his own thing, which he always does.

Don’t blame him. Blame the Bulls. They’ve earned somebody like him. The players haven’t played up to their ability, and the man in charge of making personnel moves hasn’t adjusted to their failures. That’s how someone like Westbrook enters the conversation. That’s how crazy talk gets normalized.

Enjoy, everybody!

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