Since moving to the bench, Russell Westbrook has begun to rebuild his value around the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers have found some balance within their rotation.
According to Keith Smith, who was speaking on a November 22 episode of Heavy on Sports Postin’ Up with Keith Smith & Adam Taylor podcast, if Westbrook is willing to make his transition to the bench permanent, he could extend his career by two or three years.
“Let’s see what happens with the thumb injury he suffered last night (November 21). If that turns into a thing that will obviously impact it. But yeah, I think so. I’ve been saying if he’s willing to sacrifice, which can be very hard for a player of his stature and what he has been for years and years and years in this league. If he’s willing to sacrifice and go to making a Derrick Rose-like transition, to being ‘I’m gonna be the leader of the second unit. I’m gonna come in, I’m gonna do my thing. Might only be for twenty minutes a night, but I can really do that.’
He could add two, three, productive years to his career. It’s gonna be whether or not he’s really willing to make those sacrifices and changes. Yeah, letting him kind of cook on second units, that’s tough because you also think too when he gets in the game, it’s quite often when the starters are, they’re just the need of that first blow, and those backup guards they’re not equipped to handle Russ, you know, when what he does as an attacker so yeah, I think we’re getting close,” Smith said.
Since moving to the bench, Westbrook has been a much-improved member of the Lakers’ rotation, providing them with averages of 17.2 points, 8.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 38.9% from deep and 43.2% from the field.
Lakers Could Re-Sign Westbrook in Free Agency
Given Westbrook’s sudden uptick in production, and how he’s playing as the Lakers’ sixth man, it wouldn’t be surprising if Rob Pelinka moved to extend his stay with Los Angeles beyond the current season.
According to a Western Conference Executive who spoke with Heavy on Sports’ Sean Deveney under the condition of anonymity, the notion of the Lakers re-signing Westbrook once his current contract expires isn’t a far-fetched idea – assuming Westbrook would take a significant pay cut.
“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.
Of course, for Westbrook to remain with the Lakers and accept a deal closer to the mid-level exception or even veteran minimum, there would need to be limited interest in his services from around the league, and that’s hard to predict at such an early juncture of the current season.
Westbrook’s Performances Garnering Interest
Of course, if the Lakers decide to trade Westbrook before the February trade deadline, then any notion of him remaining with the team long-term goes out of the window, and given the 33-year-old’s current performances, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear other teams are starting to show interest in his services.
On November 10, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that other teams around the league had begun to show interest in a potential deal for Westbrook, but a concrete offer has yet to be tabled.
“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.
It will be interesting to see which direct the Lakers front office decide to go with Westbrook’s future, given how they were rumored to have been shopping him in trade discussions all summer – but of course, that was before he became a genuine Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and now, everything has changed.