At a quick glance, Russell Westbrook has been more or less the same player for the Los Angeles Lakers that he was in Washington last season; from a statistical standpoint, anyway.
His effective field goal percentage is currently within .003 of what it was with the Wizards last season. And while his points, rebounds and assists are all down a touch, he’s also taking fewer shots and getting less opportunity to put up numbers while sharing the court with a veritable cavalcade of stars.
In other words, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers brain trust are getting exactly what they paid for. However, what they paid for doesn’t look like something that will bring the franchise its 18th NBA championship.
As of this writing, the Lakers — who were considered by some to be title contenders — are sitting at 10-10 at the season’s quarter-point. And Westbrook is rocking a net rating of minus-4.3 while leading the league in turnovers at 4.9 giveaways per contest.
With all of that being the case, some fans already find themselves wondering whether there might be some way to pull the plug on the Westbrook experiment. They wonder — can the Lakers trade him? Will he do the team a favor and opt out of his contract this summer? Alas, the answer to those questions is likely one and the same.
He’s *Probably* Not Opting Out
While money is seemingly no object for the Lakers, who have committed to doling out in excess of $160 million in salary this season, it’s likely the one thing that’s going to make it difficult, nay impossible, to correct course on bringing Westbrook into the fold.
The nine-time All-Star and former league MVP will almost certainly opt in to the final year of his contract, as it will pay him a whopping $47 million in 2022-23. Even if he arrives at the conclusion that he’s not going to capture that elusive championship ring with the Lakers, that’s not really an amount he can walk away from.
We’re talking generational wealth, folks, which is something he has talked about in the past. Moreover, Westbrook has lofty ambitions where his charitable efforts and community outreach initiatives are concerned.
In recent years, there have been some examples of players turning down big-time, guaranteed paydays to test the market, i.e. Chris Paul and Gordon Hayward. However, those players had made recent, palpable contributions toward winning and were actually able to secure new, long-term deals as a result.
After playing for four different teams in four years and being an awkward fit with the lot, it’s hard to envision a 33-year-old Westbrook convincing another team to do the same for him.
His Contract May Be Untradeable
For his part, former league exec and analyst John Hollinger didn’t even bother to include Westbrook on his list of top free agents for the summer of 2022, writing:
At this early juncture, it can be hard to read the tea leaves on player options, team options and the like, so I’m just projecting the most likely scenario. That’s why, for instance, you won’t see Russell Westbrook or John Wall on this list, both of whom have behemoth $47 million deals for next season that they can theoretically opt out of.
As with Wall, Westbrook’s deal is one that likely precludes him from being traded, too. In order to get him out of DC, the Lakers had to give up three quality players, four other teams had to get involved in the deal, a huge salary number had to get matched and multiple draft picks were exchanged, too.
Such a confluence of events is unlikely to happen again for the Lakers, especially given the way Westbrook’s Lakers run is playing out.
If players like him and Wall were on more reasonable deals, their teams could probably make a move. When money isn’t an issue, it usually just takes one other team being willing to take a flier for something to occur.
As it stands, though, the Houston Rockets have had no takers on Wall. So they have been content to pay him not to play for them. The Lakers don’t have that option; they’ve put all their eggs in the basket of a LeBron James-Anthony Davis-Russell Westbrook core. It’s title or bust for them.
In other words, the ticket has been punched and Lakers fans now get to endure the ride.
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