Russell Westbrook’s debut season with the Los Angeles Lakers did not go as planned. On Tuesday, they were eliminated from postseason contention by the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago: the Phoenix Suns. Westbrook struggled to fit alongside the ball-dominant LeBron James. He did not improve as a shooter, grow as an off-ball mover or commit to playing strong defense. In addition, his $44 million salary prevented the Lakers from maintaining the deep supporting cast that made them so dangerous over the past few seasons. The move, by nearly any measure, was a disaster.
But after the 121-110 loss to Phoenix, Westbrook indicated that he’s ready to try it all again if that’s how things shake out.
“That’s the plan,” Westbrook said after the game before acknowledging the reality of the situation. “But nothing is promised. You kind of have to take it one day at a time each day. Like I’ve said all season long, you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt. Yes, we want to be able to see what that looks like, what that entails over the course of an 82-game season, but we’re not sure if that’s guaranteed, either. So I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something.”
If Westbrook wants to remain with the Lakers, the first domino is his to be knocked down. He has a $47 million player option for next season. If he picks it up, he will at least be under contract with the team, but they will still be free to trade him. Of course, if the Lakers are afraid that they cannot move him, Westbrook could offer to decline the option and extend his contract for multiple seasons at a lower rate. This would also likely be unpalatable, and if the Lakers wanted to, they could simply use the stretch provision to waive Westbrook and pay him what he is owed over the course of several years. Should Westbrook hit the open market, he would not earn offers anywhere close to the $47 million the Lakers are obligated to pay him if he opts in.
Westbrook isn’t the only major Laker to imply that he wouldn’t mind running it back. Anthony Davis wondered after Sunday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets what might have been. “Guys feel like, ‘OK, what could we have been if I was healthy all year, [LeBron James] was healthy, [Kendrick] Nunn was healthy?’ You think about those things,” Davis said. “We put this team together and it looked good on paper, but we haven’t had a chance to reach that potential with guys in and out of the lineup. So the most frustrating part of this season is not being sure of what we could have been.”
Even when the Lakers (31-48) had their full star trio, they weren’t particularly effective. They were outscored even during the minutes when all three played together. The trio simply did not fit together. None are elite shooters. They cramped the floor for one another and their enormous salaries prevented the team from adding the sort of role players that would have made sense alongside them.
The widespread assumption around the league is that Westbrook will pick up that $47 million option. Financially speaking, he would be foolish not to. From there, the ball is in the Lakers’ court. They will surely seek out trade opportunities, and with Westbrook on an expiring contract this offseason, moving him might be possible. If it isn’t, Westbrook at least appears open to mending fences even if there’s little evidence suggesting that doing so would be worthwhile for either side.
Courtesy: CBS Sports