For many, the assumption has been that the Lakers have been bluffing when it comes to their stance that Russell Westbrook will be on the roster next season. But it’s starting to appear that perhaps they are a little more serious about retaining him than it may have seemed.
The Lakers continue to put out signs that they view Westbrook as part of the team next season, none louder than new head coach Darvin Ham’s comments in his introductory press conference. When asked about whether Russ would be on the team next season, Ham said “absolutely,” and discussed conversations he’s already had with Russ.
While the Lakers are putting out a very clear message publicly, they’re doing similar things privately as well, as reported by Kyle Goon of the OC Register in his latest newsletter (emphasis mine):
Those aren’t particularly tasteful options, but then again there aren’t a lot of teams salivating to take on Westbrook, who has played for four teams in as many years. It might be too cynical to view his once-record-setting supermax contract that he signed in 2017 as a kind of “hot potato” that the Thunder, Rockets and Wizards have desperately passed around, the Lakers would be well within reason to look at it with that kind of dread.
At the very least, the shift in the Lakers’ posturing speaks to a kind of organizational clarity to unify their message: Privately and publicly, they’ve shown their intent to keep Westbrook on next year’s roster. Westbrook has enjoyed streaks of absolute brilliance in his career, especially as a focal point. Looking at his pure averages last season (18.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.1 apg, 44.4% shooting), isn’t there a salvageable player in there somewhere?
The Lakers don’t have much of an option with a trade market as barren as the one Russ will have, but it still would be concerning if they’ve consigned themselves to keeping him this early in the offseason.
Perhaps their talk is just for show, and the Lakers are spending the opening months of the offseason building up a facade of seriously considering keeping Russ. The more they can convince teams that they believe in their future with him on the roster, the more leverage they create for a potential trade.
But that scenario is dependent on this all being a bit of a charade from the Lakers and their desires aren’t to actually keep Westbrook, something that seems less and less likely by the day. For now, even if they haven’t necessarily earned it, the Lakers are getting the benefit of the doubt simply because it’s so early in the offseason.
If this plays out all the way to training camp and into the season though, lots and lots of questions would need to be asked of the Lakers front office as to why they think anything would change with Russ. For now, the Lakers are toeing an extremely fine line regarding their highest-paid player’s future on the team heading into one of the biggest offseasons in their history.