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Lakers' Russell Westbrook Viewed as Starter by Darvin Ham: 'He's Going to Flourish'

Adam WellsJuly 7, 2022

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook's future with the Los Angeles Lakers looks tenuous right now, but new head coach Darvin Ham is optimistic about the former NBA MVP's potential going forward.

Speaking to Marc J. Spears of Andscape, Ham said Westbrook has been "counted out prematurely" and believes he will be a starter for the team next season.

"Just his mentality, his approach," Ham added. "Just to see him, a guy of that magnitude and everything he’s done in the league to get hated on. But being me, I got a wholehearted plan, a clear plan on how I’m going to use him. I showed it to him, sat down, brought stuff up for him. I think he’s going to flourish. We ain’t going to try to curtail his energy. We’re just going to diversify it, redirect it."

The Lakers are rumored to be one of the few teams reportedly interested in acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported on July 2 that the Lakers and Nets were "actively engaged" in talks involving a trade that would send Irving to Los Angeles and Westbrook to Brooklyn.

Haynes did note there's "palpable optimism" a deal can be made, but there are "a few hurdles" still to be cleared:

"Draft compensation is an ongoing talking point for the Nets, and they want shooting guard Joe Harris—who is recovering from left ankle surgery—and his remaining $38.6 million owed over the next two years included in the deal, sources said.

"The Lakers have been disinclined to the inclusion of Harris, and are instead seeking the insertion of sharpshooter Seth Curry as part of the arrangement, sources said."

As of Tuesday, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium said on The Pat McAfee Show there is "no traction on any type" of Irving deal to the Lakers, and he also said, "I'm not sure we're gonna see that take place."

If Westbrook does remain with the Lakers, his role with the team is going to be a key item for Ham to figure out.

Westbrook told reporters during his end-of-season press conference in April that his relationship with former head coach Frank Vogel was "unfortunate."

"I’m not sure what his issue was with me, or I’m not sure why. I can’t really give you an answer why we never really connected," Westbrook said.

Vogel benched Westbrook multiple times in clutch moments late in games last season. The nine-time All-Star addressed the situation after a Feb. 8 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks when he didn't play the entire fourth quarter.

"I told them I wished I could help them," Westbrook said, addressing his comments on the court to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. "Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the game to be able to help them, and that’s why I came here. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that for them but that’s not my call."

The Lakers acquired Westbrook from the Washington Wizards in Aug. 2021. Their hope was that he would be able to ease some of the burden on James as a playmaker and facilitator.

Instead, Westbrook turned in one of the worst seasons of his NBA career. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.8 turnovers per game in 78 starts. The 33-year-old shot 29.8 percent from three-point range.

Los Angeles finished 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record and missed the playoffs in 2021-22.

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