There are expected to be major changes this summer for the Los Angeles Lakers after the team had a disastrous 2021-22 season. The purple and gold went 33-49 and missed the playoffs despite having LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
A new coach will be on the sidelines since Frank Vogel was fired on April 11. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Lakers’ search for Vogel’s replacement is anticipated to be “expansive and lengthy.”
The roster will likely be different as well for the Lakers. Eight players from this year’s roster enter unrestricted free agency this summer. James, Davis, Westbrook, Talen-Horton Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, Stanley Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel and Austin Reaves are the only Lakers under contract for next season. Westbrook has a player option worth $47,063,478 that he’s expected to pick up, but according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Lakers and Westbrook have mutual interest in parting ways this offseason.
Since Westbrook struggled this season, the Lakers will probably have to take on multiple bad contracts to move him, which is why Bill Oram of The Athletic believes general manager Rob Pelinka shouldn’t trade the one-time MVP this offseason.
“The only way for the Lakers to stop digging their hole deeper is to find their way into a position of strength,” Oram wrote. “And the only way they can do that is to convince the rest of the league that they are not as desperate to trade Westbrook as everyone believes. That they are content to bring him back for another season and give their big three another chance.
“The Lakers need to take the emotion out of this. Westbrook can only help his value with the Lakers, and as next season plays out, teams that thought they would be contenders will realize they aren’t and will become more willing to change course. To trade players thought untouchable in the offseason.”
Oram Thinks Lakers Should Wait to Trade Westbrook
Oram, who covers the Lakers for The Athletic, thinks the franchise should wait to trade Westbrook. A nine-time All-Star, Westbrook appeared in 78 games this season. 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.
“But if the Lakers go into next season with Westbrook on the roster, his value skyrockets and their options explode,” Oram wrote. “By then, Westbrook’s contract becomes the key asset, and the Lakers suddenly can be selective with whom they take back or, perhaps, can justify keeping Westbrook through the season and benefitting from that cap relief themselves.
“The Lakers have almost nothing to lose by bringing Westbrook back next season. Is it ideal? Of course not. But tell me what is. Trading him will always be an option. The Lakers need to be unafraid of other teams calling their bluff. Their position can only improve by seeing how their asset, in this case Westbrook and his massive contract, matures.”
Westbrook was second in the NBA in turnovers and his lack of shooting skills made him a flawed fit next to James and Davis. Russ had an effective field goal percentage of 47.6%, which was sixth-worst in the NBA, and he air-balled and bricked so many shots that fans started calling him “Russell Westbrick.”
Westbrook Didn’t Sound like He Wants to Be Back with Lakers
Westbrook didn’t sound like he wanted to be back with the Lakers next season during his exit interview on April 11. The point guard took shots at the franchise for not giving him “a fair chance just to be who I needed to be to help this team.”
“When I first got here, unfortunately, people create narratives of who I am and what I do and what I believe in that just aren’t true,” Westbrook said. “I’m always having to prove myself again year after year after year, which to me is really unfair. There’s no reason for me to have to do that. So when I first got in here, I just felt that I never was given a fair chance just to be who I needed to be to help this team.”
Oram believes the Lakers should wait to trade Westbrook, while fans want the future Hall of Famer gone this summer. It will be interesting to see which route Pelinka takes.