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NBA

LA Lakers want coaching candidates to explain Russell Westbrook approach

With tensions growing, financial constraints tightening and an owner who is losing patience, the Lakers have a number of questions to answer including how a new coach can get the best out of their point guard.

Paul Rudder
Update:
LA Lakers want coaching candidates to explain Russell Westbrook approach
Sean M. HaffeyAFP

The rift between the Lakers and their point guard continues, but with a new coach’s arrival imminent, can the franchise get the best out of a one time MVP?

Could The Lakers’ failure be good news for Russell Westbrook?

Despite their star studded roster, the Los Angeles Lakers failed to live up to expectation in the 2021-22 season. Truth be told the Lakers had a season that was disastrous to say the least. That of course is a collective review, but when it comes to individuals, it’s highly likely that players such as Russell Westbrook were expected to be on their way out after a season that fell way short of what was hoped for. Westbrook is a player who had problems both on and off the ball. His affinity for ball handling created friction with the Lakers and NBA icon LeBron James, while his somewhat abrasive manner caused constant conflict with now former coach Frank Vogel. Indeed, it was reported that part of the reason Vogel was let go was because of his inability to manage that very situation.

That of course is simply rhetoric at this point. What remains assured is that not too long ago it was widely expected that Westbrook would be on his way out the door once the season ended. Now that Vogel has been fired it is understood that there may yet be a place for Westbrook in the team. Indeed it was just a little earlier this month that reports suggested that one of the central reasons that Vogel was let go, was due to his inability to utilize Westbrook in a way that could benefit the team.

The Lakers have a Russell Westbrook requirement

Now we arrive at the present situation, which is to say that the Lakers vastly under performed this past season and there are a myriad of questions as to why. One of those queries, as evidenced by the dismissal of Vogel is whether or not the coach got the best out of the team. Where Westbrook is concerned, this is particularly the case as we’re talking about a former league MVP. With that it must be said that according to reports, the Lakers are now asking coaching candidates how Westbrook will be utilized should they be hired.

Before we form concrete ideas as to why that is, let’s review a few things. Firstly, it is quite likely that the Lakers are implementing a ‘reverse psychology’ tactic here. That’s to say that they would not like to give the idea that they are desperate to offload Westbrook, when in fact they are. On the other hand there is also the distinct possibility that the Lakers simply want to know how a potential coach can solve an issue that Vogel couldn’t. Yet, it must be said that at the end of it all there is also the real possibility that the Lakers are prepared for the idea that no other team will take Westbrook and as such they must now figure out how to get the best out of him.

What’s the financial situation with Russell Westbrook?

While we can go back and forth on this one, there is one scenario that is quite likely, Russell Westbrook is going to be on the Lakers’ roster next season. As it stands right now, the Lakers seem unwilling to front the kind of resources - player and monetary - to move him on. What that means is that the franchise must now face the reality that they will have to pay Westbrook more than $47 million next season, assuming he picks up his player option - he most likely will. Needless to say that kind of figure won’t be a simple fix even for teams that are fans of the a player who played exceptionally poor last season.

In all, if there is one thing that is becoming clearer, it’s that keeping Russell Westbrook may actually provide more benefits to the Lakers than his potential value as a player. Should the franchise trade him, the scenario will likely result in incurring long term expenses that are both financial and draft pick oriented. When considering what owner Jeanie Buss recently said, there is a direct conflict here. Remember Buss pull no punches when speaking of her impatience. “I’m growing impatient just because we had the fourth-highest payroll in the league,” Buss said at the time. “When you spend that kind of money on the luxury tax, you expect to go deep into the playoffs. So, yeah, it was gut-wrenching for me to go out on a limb like that and not get the results that we were looking for. I’m not happy. I’m not satisfied.”

Where do the Lakers go from here?

While there are a multitude of takes to sift through, what is all but assured is that come next season, the Lakers - listen to Jeanie Buss - will be a tax team. Add to that the fact that LeBron James will become a free agent if he’s not extended this summer and all of sudden you have a potentially catastrophic situation. If James goes, the Lakers will find themselves right back in a post Kobe Bryant scenario, which is to say a team without a captain both literally and metaphorically and more importantly at the mercy of big name free agents who aren’t aligned with the cause. At that point it becomes a question of choosing a long term approach which may or may not bring success in the future OR the short term which means cutting the likes of Westbrook and others in a move towards building another dynasty.

What’s the right approach? At this point who is to say, but there are some hard truths to face. LeBron James will be 38 next season. Regardless of your feelings about James, it’s safe to say he won’t be performing at peak level for many more seasons. True it is that as long as he does perform the Lakers are in with a chance, on the other hand in today’s uber competitive league, he will require talent to support him. If Westbrook is still on the roster, is it harder to acquire said talent? Maybe and even more so when considering the aforementioned financial burden that he places on the franchise. Yet ironically that’s perhaps the same reason that the out of favor point guard may yet end up staying.

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