The Los Angeles Lakers are in the honeymoon stage with new star point guard Russell Westbrook. When the dust settles, Westbrook’s future with the team will be a popular storyline that follows the Lakers this season. Westbrook still has two seasons remaining on his five-year, $206 million contract but has a player option he can exercise to be a free agent next offseason.
It seems unlikely Westbrook would turn down $47 million heading into the 2022-23 season, but the same was thought about Chris Paul just a year ago. Paul decided to lose money in the short-term in favor of opting out to sign a lucrative long-term four-year, $120 million deal.
If Westbrook follows Paul’s lead, he would be an unrestricted free agent allowing him to sign with any team next summer. Former Nets executive Bobby Marks paints the picture of Westbrook’s two options indicating the most likely scenario is the guard remains locked into his current contract for the next two seasons.
“Westbrook has a $44.2 million player option, but the reality that his hometown Los Angeles Lakers give him the best shot at winning a championship could see the guard opt in to his contract for 2022-23,” Marks detailed on ESPN. “He could also do what Chris Paul did in Phoenix and decline the option to re-sign on a long-term contract but at a lower number.”
Westbrook: ‘While I’m Here, I Will Compete in the Best Way I Know How’
Westbrook has been angling to get back home to Los Angeles for years and all involved parties are singing the praises of why the Lakers blockbuster trade will work. LeBron James is posting photos of his workouts with his new superstar teammate and subtweeting critics. The reality is Westbrook is on his fourth team in four seasons, but the Lakers are hoping this streak comes to an end in 2022. During his introductory press conference, Westbrook did not exactly offer a long-term commitment to the Lakers while uttering phrases like, “while I’m here.”
“My vision, in this league, you understand this is a business,” Westbrook noted, per Silver Screen and Roll. “You just do your job, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. As far as the business side of basketball and figuring out where I will be, I wouldn’t imagine that I’ll be here three or four years ago. It’s just something that I can’t fathom. But while I’m here, I will compete in the best way I know how, give everything that I have and I’ll let the business side of basketball take care of that.”
Westbrook’s Addition Means the Lakers Roster Will Have a Revolving Door
What we do know is that the Lakers will have a rotating roster full of turnover as long as Westbrook is with the team. The majority of the Lakers’ salary cap is eaten up by James, Westbrook and Anthony Davis. Unless the Lakers and Westbrook go through an unexpected breakup next offseason, general manager Rob Pelinka will once again be fighting with other contenders to fill out the majority of the roster with players for the veteran minimum.
“That group of six teams [Lakers, Nets, Warriors, Bucks, Jazz and Heat], all of whom consider themselves top contenders, will enter next offseason with more than $860 million in committed salaries,” Marks detailed. “As a result, each team will be pitching free agents on a chance of winning a championship, but with only the taxpayer midlevel and veterans minimum exceptions available to offer.
“The Lakers have $145 million in committed salaries (including Westbrook’s option), the fewest among the four teams. However, because they’ll have only five players under contract, they once again will be limited to the veterans minimum and $6.2 million tax midlevel exceptions.”