It still isn’t certain if Russell Westbrook wants to return to the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2022-2023 NBA season. The point guard hasn’t yet opted-in to the final year of his contract.
Westbrook has until June 29 to either pick up his $47 million player option or become a free agent.
“He hasn’t given a final decision on that yet,” Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka said Thursday after the NBA Draft. “He has more days to figure all that out with his family. But if he comes back, he will be embraced here with open arms and want to put a path in front of him to have a successful season.”
It’s long been assumed that Westbrook would choose to play on the final year of his deal. Westbrook is set to be the fourth-highest paid player next season. He wouldn’t get anywhere close to $47 million per year on the open market.
Only Stephen Curry, John Wall and James Harden are set to make more than Westbrook next season. Wall told the Washington Wizards two days before the draft that he was picking up his $47.4 million option, according to The Athletic.
Despite the delay, Westbrook is still expected to exercise his player option. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Westbrook will remain on the Lakers’ roster, given how poorly last season went and rumors that Los Angeles has tried to trade the veteran.
Rob Pelinka says he and Davin Ham have had multiple meetings with Russell Westbrook and have been honest about Russ' role on the team and that he needs to be a defense-first player. He says Westbrook has yet to make a final decision on his player option for the 2022-23 season.
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) June 24, 2022
While Anthony Davis and LeBron James battled injuries during the 2021-2022 season, Westbrook was the one constant in the Lakers’ starting lineup. Westbrook’s 78 starts were 22 more than any other player on the team. Los Angeles finished with a disappointing 33-49 record and didn’t even make the play-in tournament.
Westbrook averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. The 2017 NBA MVP shot 3.4 three-pointers per game and only made 29.8% of those attempts. Westbrook was part of the NBA’s 21st-ranked defense, just one year after the team had the NBA’s best defensive efficiency.
The Lakers replaced Frank Vogel with first-time head coach Darvin Ham. If Lakers’ management is unable to unload Westbrook’s contract, the team appears likely to reduce the guard’s role in the upcoming season.
“We’ve been honest about how we think he fits with this team and what we expect of him next year if he decides to opt in and be here,” Pelinka said. “He’s ready to embrace the philosophy of defense first as well. He made that clear to Darvin and me if he chooses to come back.”
NBA free agency starts on June 30.