At season’s end, the idea of Russell Westbrook returning for a second season felt impossible. Not only had he been one of the central figures of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, he then went scorched Earth during his exit interview that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.
But add some time and distance to the situation and take a broader look at matters and the Lakers are at least putting up a front that they could be changing their mind on the matter.
The offseason will feature a lot of moving parts for the franchise, the first of those being hiring a new head coach. Amidst the interviews they’ve conducted, the Lakers are reportedly fielding responses on how candidates would best utilize Russell Westbrook, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Yet though it remains unclear who will replace the fired Frank Vogel, with Kenny Atkinson, Adrian Griffin, Mark Jackson, Darvin Ham and Terry Stotts among the known candidates, we continue to learn about how Lakers officials see their own roster by way of the coaching search itself. More specifically, the notion of Russell Westbrook remaining part of their program is seeming more real all the time. Despite the widely held belief that the Lakers would find a way to trade Westbrook before the start of next season, sources say their coaching candidates have been asked to discuss how they would use him in their system during interviews. The takeaway for candidates, it seems, is that maximizing Westbrook’s presence after his disastrous 2021-22 season is considered an important part of this job.
Now, if a team was looking to gain some leverage in trade negotiations, they would begin leaking lots of things to try to make their distressed asset look better, right? They might leak that it was the coach who struggled to get the best out of the player and not the opposite which was true for most of the season.
They might also leak that they’re leaning toward keeping the player. And, knowing they’re only going to hire one candidate, they might ask a number of candidates across the league how to best utilize Westbrook to give the impression they’re keeping him.
Think about it. If they’re asking Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham and Adrian Griffin all how to best utilize Westbrook, they may only hire one of those candidates at best while the other two head back to their current teams with the mindset that the Lakers might actually keep Westbrook and they could begin spreading that idea to others around the league.
Now, that is giving a lot of benefit of the doubt to a Lakers franchise that traded for the guard in the first place. And it’s entirely possible that they simply do intend on keeping Westbrook next season. But even the Lakers have to be aware of how toxic the situation became and know that it’s best for all parties to move on.
Before doing that, though, they’d be wise to recoup as much leverage and value as possible before looking to make a deal. Or, they may simply be looking to re-instill some confidence and belief back into Westbrook indirectly through these reports.
Either way, it’s going to set up a rather fascinating next handful of months for the purple and gold.