Los Angeles Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook has yet to make a decision on his player option for next season, but general manager Rob Pelinka has made it clear that the organization would welcome his return to the team.
"He hasn’t given a final decision on that yet," Pelinka said after the NBA draft Thursday. "He has more days to figure all that out with his family. But if he comes back, he will be embraced here with open arms and want to put a path in front of him to have a successful season."
Westbrook has a $47 million option for next season remaining on his contract, and he has until Wednesday to decide whether to exercise it. Despite such a massive salary-cap hit coupled with inconsistencies from last season, Los Angeles has consistently expressed a desire to keep Westbrook in the fold.
The Lakers hired Darvin Ham as their next head coach to replace Frank Vogel, who was fired after the team finished 33-49 and failed to make the playoffs last season. Westbrook was in attendance for Ham's introductory press conference, and Ham said he expects to have the have the nine-time All-Star on his roster when Los Angeles opens the 2022-23 season.
"Russ and I had some really, really great one-on-one convos, man, and the biggest word I think came out of that, those discussions, was 'sacrifice,'" Ham said. "I’m going to expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been all his entire career."
Westbrook played a team-high 78 games for Los Angeles last season and averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. It was the first time he averaged under 20 points in a season since his second year in the NBA. The 33-year-old also struggled to develop chemistry with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both of whom missed significant time throughout the year because of injuries. The three of them played only 21 games together.
Pelinka added that if Westbrook does return, he will have to buy into the team's new direction under Ham.
"We’ve been honest about how we think he fits with this team and what we expect of him next year if he decides to opt in and be here," Pelinka said. "He’s ready to embrace the philosophy of defense first as well. He made that clear to Darvin and me if he chooses to come back."