What Russell Westbrook Exercising Player Option Means For Lakers

Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

To no one’s surprise, Russell Westbrook elected to pick up his player option for the 2022-2023 NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers, ensuring himself a handsome salary of $47.1 million for next year.

While some Lakers fans were holding out hope that Russ’s competitive spirit might have led him to decline the final year of his contract and jump ship onto a better-fitting team, alas as many have done before him, Westbrook chose oodles of guaranteed cash over a hypothetical sense of pure love for the game.

This leaves the Lakers stuck with their “Big 3” last year, a triumvirate of Westbrook, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis that severely underwhelmed and ultimately failed to make it to the postseason, even with the Play-In Tournament’s extended format that gives 10 teams in each conference the chance to make the playoffs.

Now, with Russ and his $47.1 million back on board, General Manager Rob Pelinka has to find a way to improve a roster that finished 11th in the Western Conference last season despite having very few avenues to do so.

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With Westbrook’s salary accounted for, the Lakers will be well over the salary cap even if they renounce all other eligible contracts. Not only are they over the salary cap, but they’re also projected to be within the luxury tax range again as well. This means that Los Angeles will only have the taxpayer mid-level exception and veteran minimum deals to dole out in free agency to try to add talent.

On the bright side, Russ opting in at least gives Pelinka another contract to try to navigate trades with, although his list of potential partners has quickly dwindled. John Wall is expected to be bought out by the Houston Rockets and is looking to sign with the Laker’s hometown rivals, the LA Clippers.

Kyrie Irving has opted into the final year of his deal with the Brooklyn Nets for $36 million. It’ll be quite difficult for the Lakers to find a buyer for Westbrook and his $47.1 million figure.

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Ultimately, this means that the Lakers will have to run it back and expect vastly different results, lest they waste another year of King James’s prime. Perhaps new Head Coach Darvin Ham can milk production out of Westbrook enough to bide the time until the trade deadline when they can revisit potential deals for the former Most Valuable Player.