In addition to their head coaching search, the biggest question mark the Los Angeles Lakers have going into the offseason is what they will do with Russell Westbrook.
It’s no secret that the Lakers’ blockbuster trade for Westbrook didn’t work out as planned with the team missing the postseason in 2021-22. Now, the point guard has a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season that he will surely pick up.
While all reports have indicated that the Lakers still prefer to trade Westbrook, that may be easier said than done.
According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, teams aren’t exactly rushing to help the Lakers get out of this pickle:
As The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported last week, the Lakers are now strongly considering the possibility of keeping Westbrook because of the hardball stance the league is currently taking in trade negotiations.
Teams have been demanding the inclusion of at least one first-round pick to take on Westbrook’s massive expiring contract, according to league sources. Rival teams know how much of a public trainwreck last season was for the Lakers, and they’re not looking to do Los Angeles any favors by helping them off of Westbrook’s contract.
The Lakers have the ability to trade their 2027 and/or 2029 first-round picks this summer so theoretically could attach one or both in a Westbrook deal to entice teams to take on his expiring contract.
To this point though, the Lakers have been unwilling to add draft assets to Westbrook and with that expected to remain the case, it’s looking more likely that he will remain in L.A.:
But the Lakers don’t subscribe to that theory. As of now, they have no intention of using a first-round pick to facilitate a Westbrook trade, according to league sources.
And it’s not merely a bluff or tactic to try to regain leverage in trade talks. That may be an ancillary motive, sure, but per league sources, there is a sentiment among some within the franchise that the right coach and a better supporting cast could smooth over Westbrook’s awkward fit with James and Davis.
Reports indicated that the Lakers have been asking head coaching candidates how they would plan to utilize Westbrook. Due to his lack of shooting ability, Westbrook is not the best fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which was shown on the court in the 2021-22 season in the few games they were all healthy.
If the Lakers do indeed keep Westbrook then it will be interesting to see how the new head coach utilizes him. At this stage of Westbrook’s career, it may make the most sense for him to come off the bench where he can be the primary ballhandler of the second unit.
Westbrook’s pride has gotten in the way of him doing what’s best for his team in the past though, so it’s unclear if he would be willing to make that sacrifice.
Johnson believes right coach can figure out Westbrook situation
One person with a voice in the organization who may be advocating to keep Westbrook is the best point guard the Lakers have ever had in Magic Johnson.
He feels the right coach in place may be able to figure things out with Westbrook and make it work, so it will be interesting to see if that’s ultimately the direction they go.
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