As expected, given the finances involved, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook will exercise the $47.1 million option during the final year of his contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Westbrook’s deal has been a diminishing asset since he signed it with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the months following his 2017 NBA MVP campaign. The nine-time All-Star has been traded to the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards and Lakers over the past three years. The 33-year-old’s career-highs of 31.6 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game fell to 19-7-7 for the 11th-ranked Lakers last season.
The Lakers also spent much of the past year trying to find a trading partner for Westbrook’s massive contract, to no avail. They’ll keep buying his deal now that it’s expiring, but attaching future first-round picks exacerbates the problem of finding teams capable of matching that much salary in one trade. The Lakers want something in return for Westbrook, and that might be impossible to find for a $47 million substitute.
Since ending his partnership with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant in 2016, Westbrook has won a single playoff series in five games against Beal and LeBron James over the past three seasons, prompting questions about where he might find success in his mid-30s.
Westbrook’s contributions to the Lakers’ stunning 2021-22 season played a role in the firing of Frank Vogel, who coached James and Anthony Davis to a 2020 championship. Westbrook attended new Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s induction press conference earlier this month, and Ham publicly repaid the respect.
“Russ is one of the best players our league has seen and has a ton left,” Ham said, despite asking Westbrook to “sacrifice” his game. “I don’t know why people tend to write him off.”
Ham stressed the need for Westbrook to make a defensive contribution and hinted at the possibility of getting him off the bench. Westbrook’s inability to do the former and/or unwillingness to do the latter could potentially create tensions for Ham similar to those experienced by Vogel as he tried to stem the impact of a one-time MVP.
The freedom of being the player Westbrook still thinks he is wasn’t worth giving up $47.1 million and testing the free agent market to see if another team would be ready to let him cook for a far lower salary. The Lakers and Westbrook made their beds in last summer’s blockbuster trade, and now they have another season to lie in unless a miracle trading partner shows up before his contract ends.