After a tumultuous first season in Los Angeles, Russell Westbrook will be returning to the Lakers (at least barring a trade this summer) after deciding to pick up his $47 million player option.
ESPN Sources: Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook is planning to exercise his $47.1 million option to return to the franchise for the 2022-2023 season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2022
Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook is exercising his $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season, league sources tell @YahooSports.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 28, 2022
Westbrook seemed excited about player option day, as he posted a video of him joyfully singing in the car prior to the news coming out.
Westbrook, who could’ve become a free agent on July 1, unsurprisingly made the decision to finish out the last year of his contract rather than hit the open market, leaving the Lakers in the expected position of needing to fill out their roster around their three max stars with veteran minimums and the taxpayer mid-level. The only other Lakers under contract currently are LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Kendrick Nunn (who likewise picked up his player option for $5.25 million after missing all of the 2021-22 season with injury), which means there are 10 roster spots potentially to fill out — although Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel all figure to be brought back and second round pick Max Christie is expected to make the roster in some form.
New Lakers coach Darvin Ham offered a public vote of confidence for Westbrook in his introductory presser, but did indicate that he’s aware the only way Westbrook, James, and Davis can work together is if they commit on the defensive end. That message seemed particularly pointed towards Westbrook, who struggled on that end a year ago and will have to be better at the point of attack for the Lakers to bounce back as contenders. There is always the possibility the Lakers decide they can’t run it back, but as the months have gone by since there was considerable trade deadline buzz about Westbrook, the indication has been the team doesn’t want to mortgage the future by dealing a pick away alongside the former All-Star.