Even the most pessimistic prognosticators likely could not have imagined Russell Westbrook’s time in Los Angeles going this poorly. The positives have been so remarkably sparse and the negatives so remarkably common that it’s hard to consider the result of the pairing of Westbrook and the Lakers as anything other than the worst-case scenario.
The flashpoint of the season in that regard came when Westbrook did not close multiple games in the days leading up to the trade deadline, leading to him openly criticizing the coaches. Even as Westbrook was not dealt at that deadline, it felt the two sides had reached a point of no return for the long-term and the latest report suggests as much.
On Wednesday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report released an all-encompassing piece on the mess surrounding the Lakers after their third-straight loss on Tuesday to Dallas. Among the notable nuggets from the article was the shared interest from both player and franchise to find a new home this offseason.
In any case, there is mutual interest in finding Westbrook a new home this summer, sources said.
The Lakers’ trade deadline discussions with the Houston Rockets for a potential Russell Westbrook-John Wall swap didn’t generate significant traction, sources said, as the Lakers were resistant to including their 2027 first-round pick in any deal to offload Westbrook’s salary. League observers have pointed to this offseason as a greater opportunity for the Lakers to shed Westbrook’s contract, when they will be eligible to move their 2029 first-round pick.
It has long seemed inevitable this season that Westbrook would only be spending one season with his hometown purple and gold. But if he is to leave, it will come at a high price, one way or another, to the Lakers.
Fischer lays out the scenarios in his piece, but if the team does look to trade him, it’ll cost at least their 2027 first round pick and teams will certainly ask for the 2029 first round pick as well, knowing how desperate the Lakers will be to unload Westbrook. There is, however, another option that Lakers fans are familiar with and Fischer described in his article.
Los Angeles’ most realistic option may ultimately be stretching Westbrook’s $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season. The Lakers have already shown a willingness to stretch Luol Deng’s contract, which finally slips off Los Angeles’ books this year, although that came under Mitch Kupchak’s stewardship. Stretching Westbrook, according to the strategist, would drop the Lakers to merely $2.5 million above the salary cap, which would allow them to sign a rotation piece to the non-taxpayer mid-level, and another player to the bi-annual exception.
If the Lakers stretched Westbrook, his contract would be on the team’s cap sheet for $15.6 million over the next three seasons. In the short-term, though, it would provide the Lakers more avenues to add talent for perhaps one more run at the title in the LeBron James-Anthony Davis era. It also helps the Lakers keep some draft capital for the long-term, either to serve as sweeteners in trades or simply as picks to use down the road.
Regardless of the mechanism used to do so, it seems pretty clear the Lakers and Westbrook have minimal interest in trying to run it back next season under different circumstances. It’s still at least somewhat hard to imagine it went this bad that the stretch provision feels even possible as an outcome.
Not all homecomings have a happy ending, though, and Westbrook’s return to Los Angeles doesn’t look like it’ll be happily ever after.