Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters on June 23 that Russell Westbrook hasn’t decided if he’ll pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season. The nine-time All-Star has a player option worth $47.1 million. If he declines it, Westbrook would enter unrestricted free agency this summer.
Pelinka said if Westbrook is back with the Lakers, the one-time MVP “will be embraced here with open arms.” The exec also stated that the future Hall of Famer needs to be a defense-first player.
“He hasn’t given a final decision on that yet,” Pelinka said following the 2022 NBA Draft. “He has more days to figure all that out with his family. But if he comes back, he will be embraced here with open arms and want to put a path in front of him to have a successful season. We’ve been honest about how we think he fits with this team and what we expect of him next year if he decides to opt in and be here. He’s ready to embrace the philosophy of defense first as well. He made that clear to Darvin (Ham) and me if he chooses to come back.”
Westbrook started 78 games for the Lakers in 2021-22. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4% from the floor, 29.8% from beyond the arc and 66.7% from the free-throw line. The UCLA product was second in the NBA in turnovers and his effective field goal percentage of 47.6% was sixth-worst in the league.
However, new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham seems excited to work with Westbrook if the guard is back in Los Angeles.
Ham on Westbrook: ‘There’s Still a Ton Left in the Tank’
Westbrook was at Ham’s introductory press conference with the Lakers. Ham, who has won a championship as a player and assistant coach, is looking forward to working with Westbrook.
“Don’t get it messed up. Russell Westbrook is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there’s still a ton left in the tank,” Ham said. “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off. Russ and I had some really, really great one-on-one convos, man, and the biggest word I think that came out of that, those discussions, was sacrifice. I’m going to expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been all his entire career. A lot of that now may have him without the ball in his hand. Most of it now may have it on the defensive end. But again, we have to sacrifice. There’s no achieving anything without all parties sharing the load, sacrificing, instead of one-on-one.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on June 9 that Westbrook is expected to pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season. Unless something drastic happens, all signs point toward Westbrook being the Lakers’ starting point guard again.
Lakers Operating as If Westbrook Will Be on Roster in 2022-23
According to a June 13 report from Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, “sources close to the team, along with several competing executives, believe the Lakers are operating as if Westbrook will be on the roster to start next season.”
The Lakers have tried to trade Westbrook, but according to a May 29 report from Marc Stein of Substack, teams are asking Los Angeles to give up additional assets to trade Russ, who turns 34 in November.
“The Lakers are tuning out the skeptics yet again and insisting to anyone who will listen that they would rather keep Russell Westbrook on the roster for next season than surrender additional assets to convince someone to trade for him,” Stein reported. “The Lakers are also said to be adamant that they won’t release the former MVP and eat his $47.1 million player option for next season after Westbrook picks it up.”
The Lakers went 33-49 in 2021-22. They didn’t qualify for the play-in tournament despite having Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.