The assumption among many has been that the Los Angeles Lakers are bluffing when it comes to their claim that Russell Westbrook will be on the roster next season. But it’s starting to look like they’re a little more serious about keeping him than they first appeared to be.
The Lakers continue to send out signals that Westbrook will be a part of the team next season, with new head coach Darvin Ham‘s comments in his introductory press conference being the most blatant.
When asked if Russ would be on the team next season, Ham replied, “absolutely,” and went on to discuss previous conversations he’d had with Russ.
Will Russell Westbrook be at Lakers next season?
While the Lakers are sending a strong public message, Kyle Goon of the OC Register reported in his latest newsletter that they are also sending a strong private message.
“Those aren’t particularly tasteful options, but then again there aren’t a lot of teams salivating to take on Westbrook, who has played for four teams in as many years. It might be too cynical to view his once-record-setting supermax contract that he signed in 2017 as a kind of “hot potato” that the Thunder, Rockets and Wizards have desperately passed around, the Lakers would be well within reason to look at it with that kind of dread. At the very least, the shift in the Lakers’ posturing speaks to a kind of organizational clarity to unify their message: Privately and publicly, they’ve shown their intent to keep Westbrook on next year’s roster. Westbrook has enjoyed streaks of absolute brilliance in his career, especially as a focal point. Looking at his pure averages last season (18.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.1 apg, 44.4% shooting), isn’t there a salvageable player in there somewhere?,” Kyle Goon reported.
— Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) September 28, 2021
Is it just for a show?
With a trade market as barren as the one Russell Westbrook will face, the Lakers don’t have much of a choice, but it’s still concerning if they’ve decided to keep him this early in the offseason.
Maybe their talk is just for show, and the Lakers are spending the first months of the offseason putting on a show that they’re serious about keeping Russ. The more they can persuade teams that he is an important part of their future, the more leverage they will have in a potential trade.
But that scenario is predicated on the Lakers’ desire to keep Westbrook being a charade, which is looking less and less likely by the day. The Lakers are getting the benefit of the doubt for now, even if they haven’t necessarily earned it, simply because it’s so early in the offseason.
If this continues through training camp and into the season, the Lakers front office will have to answer a slew of questions about why they believe anything will change with Russ. For the time being, the Lakers are walking a fine line when it comes to their highest-paid player’s future with the team as they enter one of the most important offseasons in their history.