Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has reportedly made a final decision on point guard Russell Westbrook.
According to an August 28th report from Marc Stein of Substack, Ham is determined to carve out a “real role” for Westbrook if the one-time MVP isn’t traded.
“Yet I am also hearing that, if no trade involving Westbrook materializes and if he is on the roster when the Lakers start practicing on Sept. 27, new Lakers coach Darvin Ham remains determined to carve out a real role for Westbrook,” Stein wrote. “Sources say that the Lakers, to date, have strongly resisted the idea of shelving Westbrook completely until they can find a trade for him like the Rockets tried last season with John Wall — even after trading for longtime Westbrook adversary Patrick Beverley. Westbrook, who turns 34 in November, appeared in 78 of the Lakers’ 82 games last season.”
The Lakers are still exploring trade possibilities for Westbrook. However, if no trade comes to fruition, Ham will do his best to make it work with Westbrook, who picked up his $47.1 million player option for next season.
Ham Got Honest on Westbrook’s Role
Ham was a guest on “The Dan Patrick Show” on June 16th and the 49-year-old spoke about how he planned to use Westbrook next season alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“I think the style of play we’re going to have, you know, all of those guys — not only just Russ but LeBron, AD — they’re going to be able to share the load,” Ham said. “And one thing I mentioned to Russ is the way I’m built, the success I’ve seen — especially most recently in the last nine years and the last four years being with Coach Bud in Milwaukee, also in Atlanta, but in Milwaukee — one thing we always preached and will continue to preach to be our foundation of our teams is a defensive mindset, being able to defend at a high level.
“And I challenged him and he accepted the challenge. That’s a part of the word ‘sacrifice’ we use. And being able to move him around in different spaces on the floor as we go back on the offensive end. Sometimes he’s going to be off the ball slashing. Sometimes he’s going to play in the dunker. Sometimes he’s going to be initiating things. He may post up a little bit. He may be the screener in pick-and-rolls.
“So, being able to diversify his plan of attack where he’s not just rushing the ball up the court facing three defenders every time and having to put his, like I said in the press conference, run to the telephone booth and put their capes on. Everybody needs to be involved with what we’re doing on both sides of the ball and I think it’ll make it easier, lighten the load and also allow us to get stronger as the season gets longer.”
Westbrook started 78 games for the Lakers last season. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4% from the field, 29.8% from beyond the arc and 66.7% from the free-throw line. The future Hall of Famer was second in the NBA in turnovers and his effective field goal percentage of 47.6% was sixth-worst in the league.
Despite Westbrook’s struggles from last season, though, Ham has said nothing but positive things about the All-Star guard.
Ham on Westbrook: ‘There’s Still a Ton Left in the Tank’
Westbrook was at Ham’s introductory press conference in June. The new Lakers tactician, who has won a championship as a player and assistant coach, said he was looking forward to working with the nine-time All-Star.
“Don’t get it messed up. Russell Westbrook is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there’s still a ton left in the tank,” Ham said. “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off. Russ and I had some really, really great one-on-one convos, man, and the biggest word I think that came out of that, those discussions, was sacrifice. I’m going to expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been all his entire career. A lot of that now may have him without the ball in his hand. Most of it now may have it on the defensive end. But again, we have to sacrifice. There’s no achieving anything without all parties sharing the load, sacrificing, instead of one-on-one.”
On July 18th, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Westbrook, James and Davis spoke on the phone, with each player expressing their commitment to one another. The Lakers went only 33-49 last season.