Russell Westbrook remains a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and the team is happy to have him — for now at least.
After the latest wave of trade rumors surfacing surrounding the polarizing guard, head coach Darvin Ham issued a strong defense of Westbrook.
“Man, just he’s ours, and we love him and we want him to do well,” Ham said. “Like I said, I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job. So it’s been a great camp for him. He’s played well. Energy has been through the roof. It’s been great. … It’s the nature of the beast, and we understand that. So what we do is try to block out all the noise and just try to focus on the work. And he’s a big part of what we’ve been doing, a big part of the work.”
The quote from Ham came on the same day The Athletic reported that key decision makers within the Lakers organization were mulling dealing Westbrook and a pair of first-round picks to the Pacers for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner.
While there was “momentum at times toward a deal going down” the Lakers chose to go with a wait-and-see approach, eager to see if Westbrook can improve with a season in purple and gold under his belt.
Westbrook Solid in Preseason Debut With Lakers
Westbrook played 15 minutes in the Lakers’ preseason debut and looked solid. The former MVP notched five points, two rebounds, three assists in the limited action.
Ham is seeking more pace from the Lakers and expects more even production from Westbrook in his system.
“Russ is a Los Angeles Laker,” Ham said after the game. “I’m the coach. We talk about Laker business, more specifically the business of basketball that we have together in terms of how we’re going to play, how he’s going to be effective in the system. Any outside noise? We don’t pay attention to it. It’s pretty difficult when you have smart phones and all that now these days but at the end of the day, since I got the job, he’s been nothing but supportive.
“He’s a Los Angeles Lakers the last time I checked and I’m really not mad at that. And he showed tonight he’s going to thrive in this system.”
Westbrook’s Role Still Unclear With Lakers
While Ham is saying all the right things when it comes to Westbrook, it’s clear there’s still some turmoil internally on what his role with be with the team.
There have been rumors about Westbrook coming off the bench and the Lakers turning to Dennis Schroder or Patrick Beverley to fill the spot with the starters. Westbrook hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie season, although he was benched in some late-game stretches last year in crucial situations by former coach Frank Vogel.
Ham has tinkered with his lineup during camp and didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of Westbrook being a starter during media day.
“We’re a ways away. I mean, we have several options,” Ham said. “You know, obviously we signed Dennis, we signed Pat Bev, we got a healthy Kendrick Nunn, along with Russell himself Austin Reaves, we have a variety of options to fulfill in our backcourt.
“But again, as I mentioned, defensively, we got to have a defensive mindset. Those are the guys that’s going to get the minutes, guys who are going out there to get stops and he said, he’s told me personally 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.”
The Lakers and Westbrook are next in action on Wednesday against the Suns and the arrival of Schroder in the coming days could cause some additional intrigue.