The two biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason are who will be the team’s next head coach and will Russell Westbrook still be on the roster for next season. Initially, it looked as if the Lakers would be moving on from Westbrook this summer, but one major voice, that of former head coach Phil Jackson, is reportedly a fan of Westbrook.
Jackson is reportedly pushing for the Lakers to retain Westbrook and now the coaching hire may even be linked to him as the team is reportedly asking coaches how they would use the point guard in their system. Overall, it seems as if the Lakers are of the belief that Frank Vogel simply didn’t get the best out of Westbrook as was possible, despite the difficult position it put the head coach in.
Jackson himself is no stranger to this type of situation and according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, is using his handling of Gary Payton in 2004 as an example of how a coach can make a difficult piece still work:
To that end, it’s worth revisiting my report from earlier this month about Jackson’s affinity for Westbrook. When the decision was made to fire Vogel, there was a belief from on high that Westbrook wasn’t put in a position to succeed. For Jackson’s part, sources say he has cited the Gary Payton dilemma in the 2003-04 Lakers season as a way of illustrating a coach’s need to make the best of roster decisions that weren’t his preference. In essence, deal with the hand you’re dealt rather than complain about it.
Payton joining the Lakers in 2004 was a huge deal as he was a Hall of Fame player, but wasn’t exactly the best fit for Jackson’s triangle offense. Furthermore, his addition forced Derek Fisher to the bench, which surely didn’t sit well either, but the team somehow made it work to the point that they returned to the NBA Finals in 2004.
These days, Jackson’s positive view of Westbrook is relevant even though he won’t be the head coach himself as Amick previously reported that he is a fan of the 2017 MVP:
And how’s this for a tidbit to tie this thread up: Phil Jackson is known to have been a fan of Westbrook’s throughout his career. Sources say Phil Jackson has no interest in taking on this coaching job (or any other) himself — let’s just stop that rumor right here — but his view of Westbrook is relevant. As we’ve established, Jackson’s voice matters again.
What is unclear, however, is how many people within the Lakers hold the same viewpoint as Jackson. Though some may believe that Vogel could have done better, they could also see his issues as something that hinders the team too much and Jackson could simply be outnumbered.
The Lakers have some big decisions to make this offseason as they look to return to championship contention and what to do with Westbrook may be the most important to that.
Jeanie Buss not ready to address Westbrook’s future
The ultimate decision on Westbrook’s future with the Lakers may ultimately come down to what Jeanie Buss decides, although she is not yet ready to comment on that given how many other things L.A. needs to address first.
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