The Russell Westbrook experiment in Los Angeles proved to be an unmitigated disaster, and apparently some of the top dogs with the Lakers want it to end after one year.
Despite injuries limiting their time on the floor together, the Westbrook-LeBron James-Anthony Davis trio never seemed to jell this season as the Lakers embarrassingly missed the postseason. Now, Westbrook is likely to opt in to the final year of his contract, which will pay him around $47 million.
That eliminates what little flexibility the Lakers had to dramatically improve their roster, and after firing Frank Vogel and hiring Darvin Ham, it’s clear that they know change is needed. Whether that change includes trading or even waiving Westbrook remains to be seen, but NBA insider Marc Stein shed some light on where things stand.
“They’re never going to say it, but the commonly-held suspicion around the league is that the Lakers’ top stars would prefer if there was a Westbrook trade and they were able to move him and they can really try something else,” Stein said during an appearance on the “Rich Eisen Show” Thursday afternoon. “But the reality is Westbrook, when he opts into his player option next season, he’s going to be making $47 million. And even though that’s an expiring contract, that’s just a mammoth number.
"You can’t trade him without taking back long-term salary, you’re not going to get back $40-plus-million of expiring (contracts) for Russell Westbrook. So there are legit reasons for the Lakers to be hesitant to just trade him any way they can. … The messaging, the whispers coming out of Laker-land at this point is that, no, the Lakers don’t want to waive him, either. They’re going to bring him back, but that’s what you say on June 1 or June 2, that’s not necessarily how it plays out when we get to the end of September.”
James seems committed to the Lakers, at least in the short term, so they need to capitalize on the opportunity in front of them. Maybe trying to get Westbrook right is the best path, or perhaps it’s something more drastic – like trading him any way they can.
Judging from Stein’s insight, it doesn’t appear Los Angeles is willing to mortgage the future just to get Westbrook out.
“The Lakers are telling anyone who will listen ‘We’re not going to attach first-round picks to trade Russell Westbrook. We’re not going to make a bad trade just to move him.’” Stein said. “Me, personally, I don’t see how you bring Russell Westbrook back. I don’t see how you can gather the group on the first day of training camp and try to preach a fresh start if Russ is still there. But we’ve got three-plus months to go, so let’s see if Russell Westbrook still really is a Laker come the end of September."
It’s a weird situation, but the Lakers can’t continue to underachieve the way they have for a substantial chunk of the James era. How the Westbrook ordeal plays out will go a long way in either changing or continuing that trend.
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