After a dismal opening to the season, it appears Russell Westbrook’s role with the Lakers is about to change. While the point guard is out injured for Wednesday’s game, once he returns, it very well may not be in the starting lineup.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that his benching appears to be “inevitable” as the Lakers continue searching for answers of how to get something out of their highest-paid player.
"I think a Russell Westbrook move to the bench is probably inevitable… Utah, Indiana, who the Lakers talked with a lot in the offseason, I'm told they've not heard from the Lakers yet this season."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 26, 2022
— @wojespn pic.twitter.com/UzLoEwgpIs
Follow ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith backed up that report, adding that Russ would return on Friday to lead the bench.
Stephen A: "[Russell Westbrook is] going to probably come off the bench and lead the 2nd unit Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That's what I'm being told."#NBATwitter #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/ojkepKsURb— ’ (@_Talkin_NBA) October 26, 2022
If the Lakers aren’t interested in sending Russ home until a trade is worked out — which, to be fair, is probably the last resort — then bringing him off the bench is about the only card the Lakers have left to play. Now, the last time they tried this, Russ limped off the court and blamed the injury on him coming off the bench, which is not the most encouraging trial run of the move.
But the Lakers can’t conceivably keep running Russ out with the starting unit and hope to have chances to win. Giving him the chance to have the ball in his hands more, play the way he knows how and do it against reserves, on paper, makes sense, even if games aren’t played out on paper and that includes a lot of assumptions about how Russ will play.
For Russ, this also feels like last chance saloon, not just for the Lakers but for the NBA. Any team acquiring him to actually play is going to do so with the hopes of him being a reserve. If this implodes, as has so much of his Lakers tenure, then his options in the future are going to be severely limited. Another team will surely take a chance, but his leash would get shorter and shorter each time.
Because of that, this all feels like a critical moment in Russ’ career as well as in the Lakers season.