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Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook wants out amid early-season struggles

Vincent Frank

To say that Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook has been a shell of his former self since joining the team last season would be an understatement.

The former NBA MVP has not fit in with Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It led to speculation that Los Angeles would look to move the high-priced veteran this past summer. Unfortunately, Westbrook’s struggles coupled with a $47.06 million salary for the 2022-23 season made that a near impossibility.

Now, three games into the Lakers’ season, there’s a growing belief that Westbrook will not remain in Southern California long.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith added to that on Wednesday by indicating that Westbrook wants out of dodge. “From what I’m hearing, he practically wants to be gone,” Smith noted.

The soon-to-be 34-year-old Westbrook will not play Wednesday for the winless Lakers against the Denver Nuggets due to a hamstring injury. There’s now a decent chance that he has played his final game in a Lakers uniform.

Related: Russell Westbrook and the NBA’s highest-paid players

Figuring out what’s going to happen with Russell Westbrook

russel westbrook trade
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was in Los Angeles’ most-recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers this past weekend that new head coach Darvin Ham opted to bench Westbrook late in the game. Ham explained said decision after the game.

“We don’t have time for people to be in their feelings,” Ham said of Russell Westbrook on Sunday.

The nine-time All-Star has been absolutely brutal thus far during the early portion of the NBA schedule, struggling to do anything of substance.

  • Russell Westbrook stats (2022-23): 10.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 29% shooting, 8% 3-point

Looking at those numbers, Westbrook has been among the worst regular starters in the NBA through three games. He’s also seemingly uninterested in the Lakers’ on-court success.

Recent reports suggested that Los Angeles wants to wait until after Thanksgiving to make a move involving Westbrook. In short, general manager Rob Pelinka wants to see what this current iteration of the Lakers can do in 20-25 games.

That makes absolutely no sense. We’re talking about a team that’s 0-3 on the season and has lost 32 of its past 44 games dating back to last season.

Los Angeles has had conversations with the Utah Jazz about a deal that would send the likes of Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson to Southern California for a package surrounding Westbrook and multiple draft picks. Those talks seem to be dead with Utah off to a strong start to the season.

Sure Westbrook’s expiring contract could be seen as a net-positive for a rebuilding team looking to unload long-term deals. But there’s just not too much happening on that front.

The question now becomes whether Los Angeles simply opts to buy Westbrook out and move on from this failed experiment. If he wants out of dodge, said buyout might not cost too much.

If not, the Lakers might relegate Westbrook to bench duties with Austin Reaves getting the start in his stead.

“Darvin Ham had prepared Russell Westbrook through the summer and at the end of the preseason of the possibility that he could be coming off the bench this season. Ham is really looking at this in five, six game increments.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski report on Russell Westbrook plans

For his part, Westbrook doesn’t seem too keen on the idea of coming off the bench.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. That’s something I just wasn’t accustomed to,” Russell Westbrook on potential bench role.

He simply might not have a choice if he wants to remain a member of the Lakers. But for now, it doesn’t seem like he actually wants to remain in Southern California.

Stay tuned. This is a major early-season NBA storyline, one that could lead to further drama between Russ and the struggling Lakers.