Since the Los Angeles Lakers moved Russell Westbrook to a bench role, he has become a highly impactful member of the rotation, giving exceptional effort on both sides of the court.
According to a Western Conference executive, who spoke with Heavy on Sports’ Sean Deveney under the condition of anonymity, if the star guard remains with the Lakers throughout the final year of his contract, there’s a possibility that Rob Pelinka would look to re-sign him in free agency – if Westbrook would take a significant pay cut.
“No one likes to admit a mistake. Look, they had chances to just dump the guy if they wanted to, but if they did that, if it was an addition-by-subtraction thing, they would be saying, ‘Yeah we really messed up.’ They gave up (Kyle) Kuzma and KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) for the guy, and you see how much they miss guys who can play their roles, especially KCP. He is exactly what they need. So they have been gun-shy about getting rid of Westbrook because it’s egg on their face if they do.
So it is not crazy that they could sign him, at a much lower number than what he has this year. He is not going to have a market next year, not with all that has gone on in the past two seasons. Can he get a taxpayer midlevel (expected to be $7 million), even? What team is going to give him that right now? So if he stays in L.A. for that kind of contract, yeah that could happen, but it would have to be a very lowball deal,” The executive said.
Westbrook has operated as the Lakers’ sixth man for the past 10 games and has been thriving as a result, averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43.6% from the field and 39.5% from deep.
Westbrook’s Improvements Have Other Teams Interested
On November 10, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that teams around the league are starting to take notice of Westbrook’s improved performances, and the Lakers’ phone has been ringing as a result.
“With Russell Westbrook thriving in his new role as a sixth man, the Lakers are now receiving calls about his availability, sources say, but talks are not at a serious stage,” Haynes wrote.
Given the Lakers’ slow start to the season, they may feel they’re better served by retaining Westbrook for the final year of his contract, rather than trading away one of their more impactful players. It’s also worth remembering that Westbrook is Los Angeles’ most consistent star in terms of availability and health, which is an important factor given both LeBron James and Anthony Davis are dealing with long-term issues at present.
Lakers to ‘Resist’ Trading Draft Assets
Given Westbrook’s salary of $47 million, and the fact that he’s in the final year of his current contract, it’s hard to envision any potential trade partner giving up significant assets to acquire the 33-year-old guard mid-season. However, the Lakers could potentially look to sweeten the pot by offering up one or both of their future first-round draft picks.
Yet, according to Shams Charania of The Atheltic, Los Angeles’ front office appears to be increasingly resistant to the notion of parting with future assets, whether it’s to move on from Westbrook or acquire some additional help for the current roster.
“I’m told that the organization will be prudent with their two first-round picks available that they have for the remainder of the decade, in 2027 and 2029. I don’t believe the Lakers are in a position right now, to mortgage their future with those two available picks. So, realizing that this team is probably not going to be a championship contender, might not even be a shoo-in for the playoffs, I mean the way that this season is going.
They’re probably looking at marginal changes around the edges, at best. And that means trying to make deals without putting in first-round picks. Because, as of right now, the organization seems to be moving in a direction where they’re going to resist moving first-round picks if the season continues to go down this path,” Charania reported on November 8
If Westbrook remains on the Lakers roster beyond the February trade deadline, then the odds of the Lakers discussing a longer-term stay with the 33-year-old guard will only increase – especially if there is limited interests in his services on the free agent market next summer.