Less than 24 hours after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Russell Westbrook has been cleared to return by the Lakers, the team announced on Friday. He will be available when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves, a shocking turn of events for a team that was looking to be severely depleted on point guard depth for that game.
I’m not going to pretend to understand how this is even possible — Westbrook hasn’t even had time to test negative twice 24 hours apart, the normal, two-day minimum pathway for a player returning early from isolation — but even simply on a human level, Westbrook being healthy after having COVID previously during the 2019-20 season is great news, and this is also a very positive development on the basketball front for the Lakers.
Lakers guard Malik Monk was cleared to fly from Los Angeles to Minnesota to join the team for tonight's game, but ultimately was not cleared to play the game, sources tell ESPN. Russell Westbrook flew from Dallas to Minnesota today after testing out of protocols, per sources.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 17, 2021
Without Westbrook, the team was set to be down to to Rajon Rondo and (maybe) an emergency replacement Isaiah Thomas as their non-LeBron James point guard options. With his return, the big three can continue to get more floor time to gel together, and the Lakers should be more ably navigate this ongoing outbreak-related turbulence in their season.
Now that Westbrook has been cleared, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and the injured Kendrick Nunn remain in the health and safety protocols among Lakers players. Assistant coach Phil Handy is also in the protocols, with the O.C. Register reporting that he’s not set to return until at least after the team’s current road trip.
The Lakers and Timberwolves will tip off at 7 p.m. in a nationally televised contest that should, at the very least, be eventful at this point.
We will continue to update this breaking news story as it develops.