It was a difficult season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Armed with Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, big things were expected of a team that won an NBA championship two seasons ago.
Flash forward to the present, and James is tweeting about postseason games instead of playing in them. Things never came together for Los Angeles during the season. Injuries to both Davis and James hurt, but the most frustrating member of the squad was Westbrook, who never seemed to jell with his teammates on the court.
Turns out, that was a major reason why the Lakers fired Frank Vogel after the season, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic.
When the decision was made to fire Vogel, sources say his handling of Westbrook and the inability to find a way to make him a more productive part of the program were among the factors that played a big part. There was a strong sense that it was on Vogel to make the Westbrook experiment work, and the fact that it didn’t led to questions about whether Westbrook had been put in a position to succeed. That sure smells like the hope of a Russ revival to me.
That shouldn't come as a major surprise. Westbrook received plenty of criticism throughout the season for his inability to produce. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists with the Lakers, all below-average figures compared to Westbrook's career averages.
Vogel likely isn't responsible for all of that. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and James — who has aggressively lobbied for players to join the team — are at fault as well. Vogel was the easiest member of that group to dismiss, so he was fired.
Could Russell Westbrook return to the Lakers next season?
As much as Lakers fans dread it, Westbrook could be back with the Lakers next season. Westbrook has a $47 million player option to return and it's a no-brainer that he will take it. The Lakers could look to trade Westbrook, but it's possible the team takes another season to see if the Westbrook experiment can work.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson — who is helping with the team's coaching search — is a big fan of Westbrook's, per Amick.
And how’s this for a tidbit to tie this thread up: Phil Jackson is known to have been a fan of Westbrook’s throughout his career. Sources say Phil Jackson has no interest in taking on this coaching job (or any other) himself — let’s just stop that rumor right here — but his view of Westbrook is relevant. As we’ve established, Jackson’s voice matters again.
The team might not have much of a choice in the matter. Westbrook will make $47 million next season, an extremely high figure. Trading him, especially after a down year, is going to be difficult. It's tough to see a deal happening without the Lakers taking on another unwieldy contract.
It seems foolish for the Lakers to run something back that did not work during the 2021-22 season, but, hey, maybe another year and a different head coach can figure out a way to unlock Westbrook's potential in this offense.