Los Angeles Lakers first-year head coach Darvin Ham has always valued point guard Russell Westbrook highly, and that was further solidified after the team's first practice on Tuesday.
Ham told reporters that he "absolutely" views Westbrook as a starter heading into the 2022-23 season, saying, "He was there front and center today and did well. He brought a lot of energy."
Westbrook is entering his second year in Purple and Gold after a disappointing 2021-22 season. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists, his first time finishing with under 20 points per game since his second year in the NBA. It appeared at times that he wasn't a natural fit alongside Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and many believed that it was necessary for Westbrook to adjust his style of play.
Unfortunately, James and Davis weren't on the floor enough to take pressure off of Westbrook, as both of them missed significant time with various injuries. The Lakers finished with a 33-49 record and failed to make the playoffs.
Despite his struggles last year, Westbrook has always had the support of his new head coach. During his introductory press conference in June, Ham expressed his excitement to be coaching the 2017 NBA MVP.
"Don't get it messed up: Russell Westbrook is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there's still a ton left in the tank," Ham said. "I don't know why people tend to try to write him off."
Entering this season, Westbrook seems more open to changing his role if it benefits the team. He recently told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that he wouldn't mind coming off the bench, saying, "I'm all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win. I'm prepared for whatever comes my way."
The Lakers will play their first preseason game on Oct. 3 against the Sacramento Kings.