After the Los Angeles Lakers bowed out of the first round of last year’s playoffs, massive roster reconstruction became a necessity. General manager Rob Pelinka quickly put that game plan into motion by first acquiring Russell Westbrook in a blockbuster trade to pair the dynamic point guard alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The move meant a homecoming for Westbrook, who grew up a Lakers fan idolizing Kobe Bryant. However, the childhood dream has quickly become disastrous as he’s turned into the primary target for blame for his team’s disappointing shortcomings.
Russell Westbrook’s homecoming disaster with the Lakers
Last summer, Westbrook saw his childhood dream come to fruition despite it marking his third team in as many years.
Westbrook and the Lakers were fully aware of the massive transition ahead. He had to willingly accept playing a significantly reduced offensive role he hadn’t in his first 13 seasons.
Injuries to James and Davis have played a factor in the star point guard’s ongoing struggles. Still, he’s become nearly unplayable in late-game scenarios while opposing teams openly invite him to shoot three-pointers (hitting only 30.0% from deep).
All of his flaws, ranging from his questionable ball-handling decision-making to lack of consistent outside shot (34.4% on jump shot attempts in the 2021-22 campaign), have overshadowed the positives he provides.
Westbrook has become a player booed at home games when he attempts a three-pointer and is more frequently on the bench in crunch-time situations. Beyond all that, it’s led him down the path of what will be an imminent departure.
Russell Westbrook’s childhood dream to play with Lakers has become a nightmare
As fair or unfair as it may be, Westbrook’s ongoing struggles have created doubt around his long-term future.
He’s become judged on a game-by-game basis, forcing him to constantly address his fit with the Lakers. Meanwhile, the organization has moved toward seriously considering moving off the nine-time All-Star only seven months after acquiring him.
The discussion has quickly been met with utter silence outside the Houston Rockets’ willingness to land him in exchange for John Wall. His massive remaining contract, making $44.2 million this year and holding a $47 million player option next season, combined with his porous play, have made him an unmovable asset.
The Lakers hold an unwillingness to swallow their pride by including their 2027 first-round pick in any trade. However, that sentiment hasn’t stopped their desperate effort in exploring the trade market before Thursday’s deadline.
“It’s obvious they’re trying to move Westbrook, which is damn-near impossible,” a source said to Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. “They know that roster’s just not working.”
Pelinka is unrealistically hoping that a trade scenario emerges that takes the team’s offseason mistake off their hands. The reality is that Westbrook’s brief tenure in Los Angeles has turned him into an undesirable talent.
Moreover, the Lakers must accept another troubling fate that may lie ahead.
LeBron James’ future beyond 2022-23 season will factoring into Russell Westbrook’s inevitable departure
The Lakers may not want to address the situation, but LeBron James only has one more year under contract.
The four-time league MVP has repeatedly voiced that he wants to finish his career in Los Angeles. However, the possibility of playing in the NBA with his son Bronny James is becoming more realistic. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently reported that James could leave the Lakers if playing with his son can only happen elsewhere.
The 38-year-old has repeatedly spoken about the potential situation, further fueling the rumor. That alone should put the Lakers into full gear of constructing the best roster around James if he plans to play beyond his 20th season.
Westbrook sits as the odd man out as he’s showing he doesn’t fit in Los Angeles. His $47 million player option would allow the franchise to fill the roster with more talent.
As much as Westbrook wanted a storybook chapter of his career with his hometown team, that reality no longer looks feasible.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.