Lakers coach Darvin Ham was introduced on Monday and shared his plan for bringing toughness back to Los Angeles.
However that plan unfolds, as the Lakers seek a revival following a season that ended without a ticket to the playoffs, Ham intends to keep Russell Westbrook in a critical role.
Westbrook, owed $47 million on a player option in his second season with the Lakers, averaged 18.5 points per game last season and was widely criticized for missing open shots and playing hesitant.
“Don’t get it messed up: Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen,” Ham said Monday. “There’s still a ton left in that tank. I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off.”
If there was any doubt about Westbrook’s interest in playing for Ham and new assistant coach Rasheed Wallace, it was erased Monday. Westbrook was one of four current players on the roster in attendance for Ham’s introductory session.
Ham said in his conversations recently with Westbrook the focal point was “sacrifice,” and touched on Westbrook playing more off the ball in an offense patterned after the Milwaukee Bucks. Under Mike Budenholzer, Ham was an assistant coach and helped incorporate multiple scoring options in the “four out, one in” system.
Wallace once called Westbrook the best player in the NBA and will have a hand in helping contribute to the edge and toughness that general manager Rob Pelinka said he wanted in the 2022-23 Lakers.
LeBron James reportedly pushed Pelinka to acquire Westbrook in a deal that became public during the 2021 NBA Draft. When the experiment appeared to be a failure, James was reportedly very willing to let Westbrook go if John Wall, who shares an agent with James, could be acquired.
James said in his exit interview in April that he has no interest in wielding personnel power over the front office.
“I don’t put any expectations on anything,” he said. “It’s all about coming in, putting in the work, and go from there. One thing about Russ that I love and will always love, is just his competitive spirit, what he brings to the game every night. And when you’re in a profession when so many injuries happen, and so many things go on, to have a guy that’s reliable, who can put on the uniform every single night, that’s something I respect out of everything. I’m not gonna sit here and make decisions for the front office and things of that nature, but I love being a teammate of Russ.”
–Field Level Media