Coming into the offseason, the Lakers had zero leverage when it came to Russell Westbrook. A disastrous season paired with a scorched Earth exit interview pushed the Lakers to the point where most of the league and fans assumed his days were done in purple and gold.
What has followed in the ensuing months can only be described either as a masterclass in the Lakers creating leverage out of nothing or one of the most perplexing decisions the team has made yet, a very high bar for this franchise.
In his article on the Lakers hiring of Darvin Ham on Friday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the team had included integrating Russell Westbrook into the plans for next season a big part of their interviews with head coach candidates.
One of Ham’s most important directives: Finding a way to incorporate future Hall of Fame guard Russell Westbrook into the franchise’s framework with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It was a significant subject of every Lakers coaching interview in the process, sources said.
Look, if the Lakers are bluffing, they’ve done an incredible job at it. For the near entirety of the interview process, one of the constant storylines from various reports has been the team’s insistence on including Westbrook in the plans for next season. They’ve made basically everyone believe that they’re really interested in bringing back Westbrook and his expiring deal and trying to make it work under a new head coach.
And maybe they are! Maybe they think Frank Vogel and Russell Westbrook’s tumultuous relationship doomed things, as did the injuries that impacted basically the whole roster. Maybe they think having a healthier roster that fits better around the Big Three of Russ, LeBron James and Anthony Davis could still work. Or maybe they just don’t want to include the assets necessary to part with Westbrook, either.
But the fact we aren’t sure right now is an impressive amount of leveraging that they’ve accomplished. And that should make the coming weeks and months of rumors and transactions all the more fascinating.