Windhorst: Russell Westbrook's Standing in NBA Is 'Fragile' amid Lakers Struggles

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 25, 2022

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 23: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on January 23, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook reportedly might not have many other opportunities available in the NBA.

During an appearance on his Hoop Collective podcast (beginning at the 30:40 mark), ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst said the following about Westbrook's status in the league:

"I know it's just one game in the season, but it's a vital moment for Russell Westbrook. I know this sounds wild, his standing in the league is fragile. Because if he were to push back on his role and get angry and, like, sort of reject it, and the Lakers either traded him or sidelined him, there's no one to trade for him. And even if he took some sort of buyout, he would get another job, but I don't think it would be an advantageous job."

Westbrook has struggled during his first season with the Lakers, and he was benched last week in the latter stages of a 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Westbrook expressed disappointment with head coach Frank Vogel's decision to bench him, saying: "Surprised, yes. I was disappointed I didn't go back in, but I'm more disappointed that we lost the damn game. I want to be able to be on the floor to help my teammates and be able to help our team win in games like that--but that was a decision that was made."

The 33-year-old Westbrook is a nine-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, one-time NBA MVP and likely future Hall of Famer, but he hasn't performed to that level this season.

Through 47 games, Westbrook is averaging 18.6 points, which is his lowest scoring output since his second NBA season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009-10.

His averages of 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game are more in line with his career numbers, but he has been terribly inefficient, shooting just 43.7 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Westbrook is also turning the ball over 4.1 times per game, and he's had similarly poor turnover numbers throughout his career.

The Lakers acquired Westbrook from the Washington Wizards during the offseason in hopes he could form a Big Three with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

L.A. traded considerable depth to make it happen, sending forward Kyle Kuzma, center Montrezl Harrell and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Washington.

Westbrook's inconsistency has been an issue this season, but it can be argued that James' and Davis' injury-related absences have been an even bigger issue.

James is currently healthy, while AD is slated to return Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets after missing the past five weeks with a knee injury.

Having both James and Davis in the lineup to take pressure off Westbrook could help him become a far more effective player, or at least that is the outcome the Lakers have to hope for.

The 23-24 Lakers are eighth in the Western Conference, and while they are in no imminent danger of falling out of the top 10, which would at least ensure them a postseason play-in game, they would undoubtedly love to get in the top six and avoid the play-in.

Westbrook is signed through this season at a salary of $44 million, per Spotrac, and he has a $47 million player option for next season, so it is difficult to envision any team wanting to trade for him, as Windhorst referenced.

Failing that, the Lakers merely have to stick with him and trust that the vision of a Westbrook-James-Davis trio will become a winning combination.