Lakers' Russell Westbrook 'Accepted' Darvin Ham's Challenge to Be More Versatile

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJune 17, 2022

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, 
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New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said Thursday that veteran guard Russell Westbrook is up to the challenge he posed to him recently in terms of playing a more complete game next season.

Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show (h/t Ashish Mathur of Heavy.com), Ham said the following about his conversation with Westbrook:

"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."

Ham added that he wants Westbrook to "diversify his plan of attack," and desires for Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis to all have a significant hand in the team's success next season.

After a rough first season with the Lakers in 2021-22, Westbrook is expected to exercise his $47.1 million player option and remain with the team next season.

Last offseason, the Lakers acquired Westbrook in a trade that sent Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Washington Wizards. The hope was that Westbrook would be the third star L.A. needed alongside James and Davis.

Instead, Westbrook scuffled through a down year on the heels of averaging a triple-double in four of the previous five seasons.

Westbrook started all 78 games he appeared in, averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from beyond the arc, marking his worst production since the 2009-10 season, which was his second year in the NBA as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The nine-time All-Star and one-time NBA MVP wasn't a good fit next to LeBron and AD out of the gates, and when both of the Lakers superstars missed time because of injury, Westbrook couldn't operate as a solo star and lead Los Angeles to wins consistently.

As a result of Westbrook's substandard play and the injury issues experienced by James and Davis, the Lakers finished a disappointing 33-49 and missed the playoffs just two years after winning a championship.

Head coach Frank Vogel turned out to be the scapegoat, as he was fired and replaced by Ham, who won a championship with the Bucks in 2021 as an assistant coach under Mike Budenholzer.

As demoralizing as last season may have been for the Lakers, there are still high hopes for the 2022-23 campaign because of the presence of James and Davis.

Unfortunately for the organization, the trio of James, Davis and Westbrook have such a high collective salary that it will be difficult to make other major additions around them.

Because of that, it is paramount for Ham to make that combination work if the Lakers are going to have any hope of returning to the playoffs and vying for a championship.