Russell Westbrook made a good first impression on Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham during the team’s kickoff practice on September 27.
While sometimes misguided, Westbrook’s intensity can never be questioned, and Ham said he felt that the nine-time All-Star set the tone for the practice. When asked if he envisions Westbrook as a starter, Ham left little room for debate with a resounding “absolutely.”
“I know there’s this narrative that’s being thrown out there that I never said, you know what I’m saying?” Ham told reporters. “Like, it’s crazy. I mean, what goes on in this building, what goes on with the conversations with Rob [Pelinka], Russ and myself, his agent Jeff [Schwartz]. …You have to hold your tongue a lot, choose not to speak on things. But then people draw different scenarios out of your silence, which is crazy. But he was there front and center today and did well, brought a ton of great energy to the gym.”
That’s a bit different than what Ham said during media day on Monday, choosing not to back Westbrook as the starter and hinting at an open competition in camp.
“We’re ways away. We have different options,” Ham said when asked about the idea of Westbrook starting. “We signed Dennis [Schroder], we signed Pat Bev, we got healthy Kendrick Nunn along with Russ himself, Austin Reaves. We have a variety of options to fill our backcourt.”
Ham Harping on Defense as Lakers Open Camp
What Ham made clear is that the Lakers’ minutes will go to guys who are locked in on the defensive end.
“We’ve got to have a defensive mindset. Those are the guys who are going to get the minutes, guys who are going out there to get stops,” Ham said. “And he’s told me personally [is] that he’s going to commit to that side of the ball. And that’s what camp is for. We’ll see. We have more than enough options that we’re comfortable with.”
That appeared to translate to the first day of practice, with part of it being spent in the film room to establish a defense-first identity.
“We all got together in the theater and kind of went over some slides,” Ham said. “A tone we want to set in terms of what our identity will be going into the season in terms of how we approach the game, how we play the game, the defensive mindset, being great teammates, being competitive. And we came out on the court and we proceeded to do that. Planted the seeds for what this new Lakers — the ’22-23 Lakers — will look like.”
Westbrook wasn’t exactly a defensive stalwart during his first season in purple and gold, and he also struggled to find his game offensively. The former MVP averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists last season as the Lakers stumbled through an injury-riddled year with a 33-49 record, missing the postseason.
Westbrook in Good Spirits After First Practice
Westbrook has been caught in the constant grind of trade rumors and speculation about his future, but he appeared to be in good spirits after the Lakers’ first practice. He was also complimentary of what Ham has started to establish and is excited to push the tempo.
“His energy. His determination. His will to just make sure we’re locked in on our new schemes and terms,” Westbrook said. “That’s something that I look forward to. I’m just happy to be a part of that.”
While everyone appears to be saying the right things, there’s still the possibility that Westbrook could be on the move from the Lakers via trade. His hefty salary would be instrumental in making a blockbuster deal work and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka made it clear they’d go all in for the right trade.