In today’s NBA media climate, where nearly every contract scoop or detail is anonymously swapped in exchange for other intel or favorable coverage, it is exceedingly rare for a player to ever come out, on the record, and admit what they are going to do in the future. It’s why it was so astounding and refreshing last week at exit interviews when Kendrick Nunn simply admitted that he would be picking up his player option to remain with the Lakers next year.
It’s also why it wasn’t that shocking when Russell Westbrook — despite facing arguably more of a “no-brainer” choice than Nunn — wasn’t willing to tell the media whether or not he’d pick up his own $47 million player option for the 2022-23 NBA season.
“I’ll make that decision. That’s why it’s called a...” Westbrook said, pausing to let the reporter answer before finishing his own sentence “...player option.”
When asked a follow-up about whether he’s given any thought to whether staying with the Lakers or going elsewhere is better for him, Westbrook again demurred.
“I haven’t thought that far into anything,” Westbrook said. “Like I always tell you guys, I lean big on my faith, and with that, I can never go wrong... My job is to make sure I come into work, be professional, be a good person more than anything. (If I) continue doing that and everything else will kind of play out.”
Westbrook was similarly unwilling to reveal reasons why he would want to come back.
“It’s not my decision to determine who’s here or who’s not,” Westbrook said, despite it literally being his decision whether he is here or not (at least until the Lakers decide to trade him or not).
But all that aside, considering that Westbrook would be unlikely to get $47 million total on a multi-year deal after this season — much less anything close to it on a one-year contract — it’s a safe bet he’ll ultimately opt-in by June 29, the latest any player can do so.
So despite Westbrook’s ultimate decision essentially breaking down to “does he want $47 million, or the veteran’s minimum?” his technically not deciding yet also allowed Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka to duck a question about Westbrook’s future at his own exit interview last week.
“Russ is a Hall of Fame player who gave everything he could to the organization this year. He battled every game and we’re so appreciative of that,” Pelinka said. “As far as his future, part of that is in his control. First thing’s first, he has a player option. I’m sure he’ll sit down with his agent and have discussions around that, and like any player, we’ll partner with him after that decision is made about what’s best for his future.”
However, despite his protestations that the rest of his statement had anything to do with Westbrook, it is pretty hard not to read the direct continuation of Pelinka’s thought as a signal that if and when Westbrook opts in, the team will look to move him.
“And rest assured, we’re going to look under every stone for ways to be better and be open to everything that will improve our team and put us in a position to compete at a higher level than we did this year,” Pelinka said. “That statement is not about any specific player on our roster. It’s a general statement. I don’t think it’s fair today to take any player on our roster and discuss his future, whether he’ll be in a trade, won’t be in a trade, I don’t think that’s fair. But in general the statement I made, I stand by.”
And until Westbrook opts-in, Pelinka’s hands are tied anyway. Despite trade rumors being set to fly about where he’ll be traded for the next month-plus — and already well underway — the Lakers literally cannot deal him until he opts in. So get ready for a few months of speculation and anonymous reports as Westbrook and the front office continue their extended staredown, because it doesn’t appear like there will be an on-the-record resolution to this storyline for a while.