Lakers Rumors: Head Coaching Candidates Being Asked How They'd Use Russell Westbrook

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 17, 2022

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, 
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Candidates for the Los Angeles Lakers' head coaching vacancy have reportedly been asked how point guard Russell Westbrook would fit within their offensive system.

Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Monday it "remains unclear" whether a favorite has emerged to replace Frank Vogel, but those who've interviewed with the Lakers came away with the feeling finding a role for Westbrook is an "important part of this job."

Prevailing wisdom suggested the Lakers would try to move on from the 2016-17 NBA MVP given his lackluster performance during his first season in L.A. and the team's failure to make the playoffs despite a roster that also features LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

That's easier said than done, however. Westbrook is a virtual lock to pick up the player option in his five-year, $206.8 million contract, which includes a $47.1 million salary-cap hit for the 2022-23 season.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to trade him at that salary, and then it would come down to how much each side is willing to budge in negotiations for a contract buyout.

While a move is still possible, it sounds like the Lakers are at least preparing for a world in which their core for next season is once again James, Davis and Westbrook.

Los Angeles' new coach would be tasked with getting the nine-time All-Star back to a level where he's at least a positive contributor under that scenario.

Westbrook averaged 18.5 points, his lowest figure since 2009-10, along with 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the field, including 29.8 percent on threes, across 78 appearances this season. He ranked 231st out of 250 qualified players in FiveThirtyEight's WAR metric (-0.7).

Not all of that dip in performance can be attributed to the presence of James and Davis, either. The two superstars combined to miss 68 games because of injuries, so there were plenty of chances for Westbrook to fill a larger role, and he continued to struggle.

So if the Lakers do plan to keep the 33-year-old UCLA product, helping him find success will undoubtedly be the biggest task on their plate during their first year in charge.

As it stands, Michael Corvo of Clutch Points reported the list of confirmed candidates includes Terry Stotts, Mark Jackson, Adrian Griffin, Darvin Ham, Charles Lee and Kenny Atkinson, though Los Angeles has been linked to several other coaches, as well.

It'll likely take the Lakers a while to sort through the high number of coaching options, but the sooner they make a decision, the quicker the front office can shift its focus to a second straight offseason with a lot of roster movement.