On a team with arguably the best player ever poised to break the all-time scoring record later this season, the Lakers’ world continues to revolve around Russell Westbrook drama.
Here is the latest on Westbrook and the Lakers:
• He is out Wednesday night against Denver due to left hamstring soreness. The hope is he could return on Friday against the Timberwolves.
• Austin Reaves will get the start in Westbrook’s absence, as he did in the one preseason game Westbrook came off the bench. If the Lakers’ offense flows better, this starting lineup could continue with Westbrook coming off the bench, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Lakers guard Austin Reaves is expected to start in place of Russell Westbrook (out, hamstring) tonight vs. Nuggets, per sources, a lineup change L.A. could keep moving forward as team searches for rotations. Reporting: pic.twitter.com/tv4ZloZXUm
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 26, 2022
• While Ham has publicly never done anything but praise and prop up Westbrook, there has been a sense in league circles the coach has wanted to bring Westbrook off the bench. Just like the previous Lakers coach, Frank Vogel, did. The questions are the same: How would Westbrook respond? Would Westbrook coming off the bench be more of a distraction than it is worth? The one time he came off the bench in the preseason Westbrook said it led to his hamstring tweak because it threw off his rotation and he wasn’t warm.
• The Lakers’ slow start has led to increased talk about a possible Westbrook trade, but no traction toward an actual deal has occurred. It’s more likely Westbrook sees a reduced role rather than a trade in the short term. The Lakers are being patient, waiting for the market, and reportedly are not thinking about a trade until closer to Thanksgiving at the earliest.
• However, if the losses continue to pile up in the early season, there will be increasing pressure on Rob Pelinka and the front office to make a move. LeBron James turns 38 in December, the Lakers are not in a position to waste a year to hold on to a draft pick or a little extra cap space.
• Pelinka has been aggressively looking for a big trade, including pitching three- and four-team trades to fellow executives, but no deal could be found, Brian Windhorst reported at ESPN. The challenge has been the Lakers didn’t want to mess with their cap space for next season (expected to be around $30 million) and didn’t want to give up both draft picks they can trade (2027 and 2029). However, if the losses pile up, the pressure to make a deal and give up whatever it takes will grow.