Russell Westbrook Rips Lakers for Benching After Opener

Russell Westbrook

Getty Images Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Russell Westbrook didn’t take too kindly to coming off the bench during the Los Angeles Lakers preseason finale, which he voiced after the team’s opening 123-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.

Westbrook was questionable for the first game of the season with a hamstring issue he suffered during an October 14 preseason game against the Kings. It was a meaningless game but it also marked the first time Westbrook had come off the bench since his rookie year, further showing the Lakers’ consideration of the idea.

Westbrook attributed the injury he suffered to coming off the bench, saying his body was not used to the changeup.

“Absolutely,” Westbrook said when asked about the shift. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. For me, obviously the way I play the game, it’s fast-paced, quick, stop-and-go. And I just happened to, when I subbed in, I felt something. Thought it was… didn’t know what it was, but I wasn’t going to risk it in a preseason game. But definitely wasn’t something I was used to. Wasn’t warm enough. But that’s something I just wasn’t accustomed to.”

Westbrook was in the starting lineup against the Warriors, logging 31 minutes. He recorded 19 points on a solid 7-of-12 shooting with 11 rebounds and 3 assists. While his fit next to Anthony Davis and LeBron James is still not a seamless one, he showed explosion getting to the rim, including a monster dunk in the fourth quarter as the Lakers tried to spark a rally.

Lakers Said Westbrook Took Bench Role in Stride

The situation with Westbrook is a delicate one and first-year head coach Darvin Ham has spoken at length to the former MVP about what he wants out of him amid rampant rumors. Ham made it very clear that a move to the bench wasn’t a slight.

“It’s not a demotion, it’s a realignment,” Ham said. ”He totally understood, totally looked me in the eye and said, ‘Yeah coach whatever you need me to do.’ And yeah, you can’t take that for granted. A player of his stature to be willing to try something different, something he’s unaccustomed to. I mean, he started a bunch of games in this league and performed at the highest level in this league, hell, even being an MVP.”

Ham did say he wants to hammer down a consistent starting lineup and liked the energy Westbrook brought to the game from the tip.

“You want to start the game off the right way in terms of your energy and being in attack mode, and no one better than him,” Ham said. “I mean, it’s what we have, and we got some key guys hurt. It’s Game 1, give them a chance to go out and compete at the highest level. I thought he was solid. I thought he was solid. A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall, I thought he was solid.”

Westbrook said previously that he’d be willing to do anything it takes to help the team win. However, his latest comments make it sound like he won’t be very content coming off the bench.

Calls for Lakers to Trade Westbrook Grow

Westbrook has been embroiled in trade drama for months and Charles Barkley believes it’s taking its toll on the Lakers’ polarizing point guard.

“It’s time for the Lakers to move him,” Barkely said on TNT at halftime of the opener. “They have taken all his joy out of life and basketball. … He doesn’t look … this guy used to be so exuberant, play with great energy and great emotion. I think the wear and tear mentally, last year, starting this year, playing with Patrick Beverley … and the thing is he’s going to get the blame no matter what because the Lakers aren’t a championship contender.”

The Hall of Famer continued: “I think he needs a fresh start; I think the Lakers need a fresh start.”

Westbrook responded to Barkley’s comments after the game, giving credit to the support system around him that keeps him on the right path amid the uncertainty.

“I stay on course, stay focused, stay locked in. That’s all I can ask,” Westbrook said. “Everything else that comes around it, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing, stay locked in on my craft and everything else will take care of itself.”

Westbrook and the Lakers continue their season on Thursday against the Clippers.

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