In a move that surprised no one, Russell Westbrook exercised a player option in his contract worth $47.1 million for the upcoming season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, the Lakers continue their difficult pursuit of trying to trade Westbrook without many teams looking to help them out.
Westbrook, 33, could have become a free agent by not exercising the player option, but it seemed like an obvious choice with $47.1 million on the table.
In 2018, Westbrook signed a five-year contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder worth $206 million, with a player option in his final season for 2022-23.
Since the contract began, Westbrook spent time with four different teams due to various trades. The Thunder traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in 2019 in a deal that included Chris Paul. The Rockets traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in 2020 for John Wall. The Wizards sent Westbrook to the LA Lakers in a huge trade last summer. However, Westbrook and the Lakers never meshed, creating a huge disaster that cost Frank Vogel his job as head coach.
Neither oddsmakers nor bettors have much faith in the Lakers this coming season. The Lakers are +2200 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship.
The Lakers are probably the seventh-best team in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and Memphis Grizzlies. Plus, the Denver Nuggets are getting Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. back, so the Lakers look less like a legit title contender and more like they’re destined for the Play-In Tournament.
Lakers doomed with Westbrook
When the Lakers acquired Westbrook in a trade last summer with the Washington WIzards, very few people aside from die-hard Lakers fans thought the deal would work. It was obvious that Westbrook wouldn’t fit in with the Lakers, especially playing with LeBron James.
Perhaps LeBron believed he could persuade Westbrook to alter his game, but it didn’t take very long before LeBron realized his crucial error. LeBron earned the nickname “LeGM” during his second stint with the Cavs because he’d been operating as the shadow general manager. He was able to help assemble a team to finally deliver the city of Cleveland a long-awaited championship. However, he failed to work similar magic with the Lakers.
LeBron wanted Anthony Davis and they leveraged three first-round draft picks to make it happen. The Lakers needed a point guard and third scoring option behind LeBron and Davis, so they went after Westbrook, but had to give up crucial role players who helped deliver them a championship inside the NBA Bubble in 2020.
When the Westbrook addition went sideways, the Lakers didn’t have a way to fix it after leveraging their future. They didn’t have any players on the roster — especially those with veteran contracts — to make a trade work. General manager Rob Pelinka drew a ton of ire from Lakers fans, but he had limited options.
The Houston Rockets were interested in giving up Wall for Westbrook last February, but the Lakers didn’t want to include a first-round draft pick. The two players weren’t traded a second time, so Westbrook remained with the Lakers.
Lake show losing time
The Lakers struggled to win with Westbrook in the lineup due to his lackluster defense and poor shooting. Fans began trolling Westbrook with the “Westbrick” moniker, which seemed to tilt him even more.
The Lakers also had key injuries to their stars when LeBron missed a quarter of the season and Davis was sidelined for half the season with knee and ankle issues. The Lakers’ Big 3 — LeBron, Davis, Westbrook — played in just 21 games together, compiling a losing record of 10-11. When Westbrook played with just one of the LeBron/Davis combo, the Lakers were 20-32.
With as much guff as Westbrook took from fans, at least he showed up. The durable Westbrook appeared in 78 games last season while averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per game.
The Lakers were so bad that they finished the season in 11th place in the Western Conference and failed to qualify for the Play-In Tournament.
Westbrook trade rumors: Hornets, Nets
The Lakers fired Vogel and hired Darvin Ham as their new head coach. If the Lakers can’t trade Westbrook this offseason, Ham faces the arduous task of getting LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook on the same page. At least Ham and Westbrook are both eager for a chance to work together. Westbrook clashed with ex-head coach Vogel from their first practice together, and Vogel ended up the scapegoat for the Lakers’ failure to reach the postseason.
The Lakers might have to wait until early 2023 to deal Westbrook at the trade deadline. He has an expiring contract, which would be enticing for a losing team seeking a salary dump.
The Charlotte Hornets seemed interested in Westbrook for a hot second, but were never a serious contender to acquire him in a trade. The Indiana Pacers were also briefly mentioned in trade rumors, but anything involving the Lakers is mostly static.
There’s a rumor coming out of Gotham that the Lakers will trade Westbrook to the Brooklyn Nets for Kyrie Irving, but that’s a potential headache for both squads. Irving and the Nets failed to work out a contract extension, but he opted in for this season, which ruled out any potential sign-and-trade opportunities with other teams. However, the Nets could still trade Irving, which gives the Lakers a glimmer of hope.
— Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) June 28, 2022