Things may be going better for both the Lakers and Russell Westbrook lately, but that doesn’t mean that either side is necessarily going to be eager to stick together once the season is over. That’s why the team extensively explored various deals centered around Westbrook before the annual NBA trade deadline, and why it seems like more a matter of “when” than “if” he’ll eventually be moved.
When that move will come, and what form it may take, then, is naturally one of the biggest questions in Lakerland. So that made it notable when — in the NBA insider equivalent of a superhero team-up — Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report and Marc Stein of Substack got together on the latter’s latest Spotify Green Room session.
During their hour-plus chat, the two reporters revealed the latest intel they’ve heard on Westbrook, the Lakers, how the two sides may look to part ways, and why doing so will be a bit more complicated than anyone in either camp would like.
Let’s break down the most notable tidbits.
The Lakers aren’t interested in using the stretch provision
The so-called “stretch provision” is an option for teams to move off of unwanted contracts by “stretching” the rest of a player’s guaranteed salary “over twice the number of years remaining on his contract, plus one,” according to Larry Coon’s invaluable CBA FAQ. This can only be done from July 1 to Aug. 31.
Now, Westbrook technically has a player option for the final year of his deal, but given that it is for one year and $47 million, we can safely assume he’s going to opt into that. So after he does, if the Lakers were to stretch him, it would take that money and spread out the cap hit from it over the next three seasons at approximately $15.6 million annually.
However, while much ink has been spilled on the possibility of the Lakers waiving and stretching Westbrook this offseason — including by Fischer himself — he told Stein that after he wrote about the mechanics of it, he was told that it’s not going to happen (emphasis mine):
Fisher: ”We’ve definitely been talking about the waive and stretch idea for a couple weeks now. I will say that after I wrote that... I was told ‘that’s very unlikely to happen.’ I mean, anything could change here, but I don’t think the Lakers intend to carry dead money on future salary because of Russell Westbrook.”
That makes sense, considering that team is only just recovering from the last time they decided to stretch an underperforming player’s expensive deal over multiple years, and because it wouldn’t free them up that much cap space anyway given how expensive LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ contracts are.
Still, this news doesn’t leave a ton of other ways for the team to move on from Westbrook, because...
Other teams are not interested in trading for Russ
Stein reported that the Houston Rockets, who were interested in taking Russ on for a first-round pick at the deadline — a price the Lakers balked at — are the only team he’s heard with any level of interest in taking on Westbrook:
Stein: ”It’s just hard to see where (they trade him). Houston, that scenario will remain, but the question will be how willing is Houston to lower (its asking price). They’re going to hold out for some sort of incentivized deal. They’re not just going to trade Wall for Russ. They wanted at least a first-round pick to do it at the trade deadline and the Lakers weren’t willing to do that. Is a pick swap now possible? Would they do it for two seconds? Is there some sort of multi-team deal that can be constructed? But beyond Houston and John Wall, I haven’t heard of any team that has changed its appetite for taking Russell Westbrook in via trade.”
Fischer didn’t dispute that, even naming one specific team that is letting it be known they don’t want Russ:
Fischer: ”I pitched the idea to Knicks people time and again going back to the deadline, and they have no interest... Everything I’ve heard is that New York is trying to grow this group as it is and mix and match a few parts and move forward.”
While none of that is completely shocking, especially considering the Knicks were sending similar signals at the deadline, it does whittle the Lakers’ options down to potentially just one team that has already been discussed a ton.
The Rockets option
The Lakers weren’t willing to attach a first-round pick to Westbrook at the deadline, but would the team be more willing to do so with another one to use this summer? Would the Rockets come down in their asking price?
Both are fair questions as we project forward, and Fischer and Stein both reported some key intel on what might be incentivizing the Rockets to come back to the table for another potential Russ deal:
Fischer: “With the Rockets’ situation, I do think that the one thing that could change is that if the Lakers are able to get John Wall for one first, that still would leave them with that 2029 pick to be able to make moves to upgrade the roster. If the Lakers are more amenable to doing it because the 2029 pick is available this summer, the Rockets to my understanding have some type of belief that Russ would be more willing to accept a buyout. That’s kind of been a big hangup or road block in this John Wall situation with the Rockets, is that he’s refused to do that. I don’t know that Russell Westbrook is willing to take a buyout, but if that is the case, that’s also why it would be intriguing from the Rockets’ side of things.”
Stein: ”If Houston does that deal, and that’s the thing wrote about the Westbrook for Wall scenario in January... I think some people were confused: There is no thought in Houston’s mind of bringing Russ back to play there. He’s not going to play there again. They would need to move off him even more than they would need to move off Wall. So there definitely needs to be some sort of path to separation if the Rockets are going to do that.”
Would Westbrook be willing to take less in a buyout to pick his own destination? It’s fair to guess he might, given that he’s earned an estimated $288 million in his career, per Spotrac, plus endorsements (Wall has earned approximately $50 million less in career salary and has far fewer endorsements than Westbrook). Like Fischer, I don’t know the answer for sure, but given all the smoke about Houston’s interest for months, it at least seems plausible that they’ve heard as much from Westbrook’s representatives.
Does any of this matter today? Not necessarily. But these rumblings are worth keeping track of with a long Lakers offseason rapidly approaching in the next few weeks. Because whether the Lakers trade Westbrook, or ultimately elect to keep him for the remainder of his deal and hope a new team and coach can make this work better, they’re at the very least going to weigh all of their options to move on from him. That makes knowing which teams might be interested, or if the Lakers would be willing to stretch his contract worth monitoring as we all try to figure out where things go from here.
For more of the latest intel Stein and Fischer are hearing from around the league, check out Stein’s Substack here. And for more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.