New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will reportedly have the power to do radical things with one of his superstars next season.
According to an August 3 report from Jovan Buha of The Athletic, Ham can bench point guard Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter. Former Lakers coach Frank Vogel benched Westbrook a few times in the fourth quarter during the 2021-22 season.
“Based on the current roster, I project the closing lineup to look something like this: Davis, Toscano-Anderson, James, Brown and Reaves. I think Westbrook will often be in there, too, but it will depend on how he’s shooting, his decision-making and his defense. Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will have more power to bench Westbrook down the stretch of games, according to league sources,” Buha reported. “That could eventually extend to removing Westbrook from the starting lineup as well.”
Among 46 players to take at least 1,000 shots, Westbrook ranked 42nd in true shooting percentage last season. The 2016-17 MVP was second in the NBA in turnovers and had the sixth-worst effective field goal percentage in the league.
Westbrook started 78 games for the Lakers last season. The nine-time All-Star and three-time assists champion averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The Lakers went 31-47 in Westbrook’s 78 appearances.
Ham Has Praised Westbrook Thus Far
Ham has praised Westbrook multiple times since taking over for Vogel. Westbrook was at Ham’s introductory press conference in June and the new Lakers tactician said he was looking forward to working with Russ.
“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.”
According to an April 8 report from Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Westbrook never respected Vogel, who was fired after the season. Westbrook, the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, got into a heated argument with Vogel in training camp and things never got better as the 2021-22 season progressed.
Ham Got Honest on Westbrook’s Role
Ham was a guest on the “Dan Patrick Show” on June 16 and he spoke about how he planned to use Westbrook next season.
“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, who turns 34 in November, picked up his player option with the Lakers for next season. He will make $47,063,478.