There is an “increasing push” within the Los Angeles Lakers locker room to bring Russell Westbrook off the bench, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi. The NBA insider added that there have been some “tense moments” between Westbrook and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, including during a film session on the eve of the team’s March 5 primetime showdown against the Warriors.
“There’s been an increasing push within the Lakers organization, I’m told both inside and outside the locker room, to demote nine-time all-star Russell Westbrook from the starting lineup,” Wojnarowski reported on “NBA Countdown” prior to the Lakers’ victory over the Warriors. “But so far, head coach Frank Vogel’s resisted that idea. Vogel still maintains that he believes there’s an opportunity for Westbrook to make the kind of late-season charge with the Lakers that he did a year ago in Washington.
“But frustrations have mounted in this Laker organization, and I’m told in the last week there’s been some tense moments between Vogel and Westbrook, including yesterday in a team film session. Westbrook has been trying to navigate all season long how to operate in a very different role away from the ball, away from playmaking.
“Now, Frank Vogel said yesterday he’s had this conversation within his staff, within the organization about bringing Westbrook off the bench. He’s not there yet. Remember, Russell Westbrook got another year left on his deal with the Lakers at $47 million next year.”
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‘There Has Been No Shortage of Defiance’ From Westbrook, Says Insider
Despite the rumored tension, Westbrook played a key role in the Lakers’ upset win over the Warriors. Westbrook notched 20 points, four rebounds and four assists while shooting nine-of-17 from the floor. NBA insider Marc Stein reported, “there has been no shortage of defiance behind the scenes” with Westbrook since the star joined the Lakers.
So much so that it will be ‘impossible’ for Westbrook to return to Los Angeles next season. Westbrook has the ability to opt out of his contract to become a free agent this summer but is expected to play through the final year of his current deal that will pay him $47 million for the 2022-23 season.
“There has been no shortage of defiance behind the scenes, I’m told, when coaches and teammates have tried to broach changes in role or approach with the former MVP,” Stein detailed on March 5. “For all the obvious complexities involved in trying to move Westbrook when he’s owed a whopping $47 million next season at age 34, one league source described the idea of bringing him back next season as “impossible” based on current tension levels. The question then becomes: If the Lakers can’t construct a palatable trade, do they try to just buy Westbrook out? Or waive and stretch him?”
The Lakers Are Considering Releasing Westbrook This Offseason: Report
The Lakers are expected to once again explore trading Westbrook this offseason. Los Angeles will also have their 2027 and 2029 first-round draft picks at their disposal in potential deals. According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the situation with Westbrook has gotten so bad that the Lakers may consider releasing the point guard using the stretch provision on his contract.
“Los Angeles’ most realistic option may ultimately be stretching Westbrook’s $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season,” Fischer explained on March 2. “The Lakers have already shown a willingness to stretch Luol Deng’s contract, which finally slips off Los Angeles’ books this year, although that came under Mitch Kupchak’s stewardship. Stretching Westbrook, according to the strategist, would drop the Lakers to merely $2.5 million above the salary cap, which would allow them to sign a rotation piece to the non-taxpayer mid-level, and another player to the bi-annual exception.”