LeBron James is expecting a bounce-back year from Los Angeles Lakers teammate Russell Westbrook, who's been the focus of trade rumors throughout the summer.
The four-time NBA MVP replied to a post on Twitter about the treatment of Westbrook since his lackluster first season with L.A.:
It's worth noting LeBron didn't say whether Russ' return to form would come as a member of the Lakers, though.
The state of the James-Westbrook relationship became the focus of headlines in July when they both attended one of the team's summer-league games in Las Vegas but made no effort to communicate.
Westbrook was linked to a variety of potential deals over the past few months, mostly as a salary-cap move to help create financial flexibility to reshape the roster after last season's disappointment—L.A. missed the playoffs with a 33-49 record.
A lot of that speculation was rooted in the Lakers' interest in Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, James' former teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, though.
Now that the Nets are preparing to run it back with the same core after Kevin Durant agreed to return, Los Angeles' path to a clear upgrade at the point is less certain.
In turn, the odds Westbrook returns to the Lakers to open the 2022-23 campaign feel a lot higher than they did when last season wrapped up in April.
Even amid the rumors, new L.A. head coach Darvin Ham consistently expressed excitement about working with the 2016-17 NBA MVP:
That said, a path back to prominence won't be easy for Westbrook, who ranked tied for 232nd out of 250 qualified players in FiveThirtyEight's WAR metric last season.
It'll be nearly impossible for the Lakers to rebound into the championship discussion if the 33-year-old UCLA product is once again a liability at both ends of the floor in 2022-23.
But James sounds confident a different version of Russ is going to show up in October and, if he's still with the Lake Show, that could push the team back toward contention.