The Los Angeles Lakers are a disappointing 5-10 on the season, and the $47 million question mark surrounding the team is whether Russell Westbrook will remain on the roster or finally be traded.
After a recent three-game winning streak with Westbrook playing well in a reserve role, however, his potential departure may be less inevitable than once imagined.
According to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, "Some executives believe the Lakers will stand pat and ride out the Westbrook experiment if he continues to produce off the bench."
As a starter, Westbrook was averaging just 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and two steals per game across three contests, shooting 28.9 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from three. The Lakers were 0-3 in those contests.
But since coming off the bench, Westbrook has been averaging a more productive 16.8 points, 8.6 assists and five rebounds per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three, a huge improvement on his 30.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc for his career.
The Lakers are still just 5-6 when he comes off the bench, but the difference in both his play and the cohesion of the starting 5 has been significant.
"I think things are moving in the right direction," Westbrook told reporters on Nov. 16 regarding the direction of the team. "That's all you can ask for."
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"We just freed him up to go be Russ. ... When Russ is out there, we want him to be exactly who he is."<a href="https://twitter.com/Lakers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Lakers</a> head coach Darvin Ham shares with <a href="https://twitter.com/malika_andrews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@malika_andrews</a> how Westbrook has embraced his new role. <a href="https://t.co/nwfxkZPFkF">pic.twitter.com/nwfxkZPFkF</a>
None of that changes the fact that $47 million of the team's roster payroll is going to a player coming off the bench, however, and one whose skill set doesn't naturally fit with the Lakers' two best players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers may be stabilizing after a 2-10 start, but it's hard to conclude that this is a team with championship upside given those concerns. And that still makes trading Westbrook for quality players who better fit alongside James and AD the most logical—if likely costly, from a future first-round pick perspective—solution.
Scotto noted that the Lakers "offered a lottery-protected first-round pick and Westbrook to the San Antonio Spurs for Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott" before the season, though the Spurs wanted an unprotected first-round pick for taking on Westbrook's enormous salary, and the Lakers balked.
And in late October, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported that the Lakers and Indiana Pacers discussed the framework of a deal that would have sent Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to Los Angeles for Westbrook, but those talks also hit a snag over draft considerations. The Pacers reportedly wanted the Lakers' unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
If the Lakers are going to get off of Westbrook's salary, draft considerations will be a part of the equation. And it still seems most likely that dealing the veteran point guard is the team's best bet to reconfigure the roster around James and Davis.
But perhaps Westbrook's recent resurgence has afforded the Lakers some patience and, in turn, a touch of leverage in that pursuit.