Lakers' Darvin Ham Says Russell Westbrook 'Totally Understood' Coming Off Bench

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVOctober 15, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 12, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham suggested Friday that guard Russell Westbrook is completely open to coming off the bench this season.

L.A. tested it out Friday in a 133-86 preseason loss to the Sacramento Kings, as Westbrook played five minutes off the bench and finished with no points, two assists and one rebound.

According to Sam Amick and Jovan Buha of The Athletic, Ham said the following regarding Westbrook's reaction to being asked to try coming off the bench rather than starting:

"It's something we've touched on, you know, during the summer here and there. And you know, [Westbrook] has been a pro, man, Russ is one of the most beautiful human beings I've ever come across in this business, on and off the floor. He totally understood, totally looked me in my eye and told me, said, 'Yeah, coach, whatever you need me to do.'"

Per Amick and Buha, the idea of bringing Westbrook off the bench stems from the Lakers' desire to "stagger" LeBron James and Westbrook due to the fact that they are both ball-dominant players who aren't as effective when the ball isn't in their hands.

Ham further explained his line of thinking, noting that putting Westbrook and James on separate units would allow him to best utilize their respective skill sets:

"Some guys play better off the ball, some guys play better with the ball in their hands, and through no fault of their own, that's just how they're built, you know? You're not gonna have LeBron James play without the ball in his hands for, you know, 80, 85 percent of his minutes that he's on the floor, you know? At some point, you've got to allow him to orchestrate. Same thing with Russ.

"And so to create some type of balance, we wanted to look at this, the setup of this type of rotation and see if it works for us. The door's not closed on Russ starting, and the door's not closed on [whether] this works, you know. We got to explore it even further."

Ham seemingly hasn't fully committed to bringing Westbrook off the bench in the Lakers' regular-season opener against the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, but trying it in a preseason game at least gave him a point of reference.

Amick and Buha reported that there had been talk within the Lakers organization of trying Westbrook in a bench role last season, however, then-head coach Frank Vogel didn't try it since he was concerned about how Westbrook would receive the idea.

Westbrook was acquired from the Washington Wizards last offseason in hopes that he could form a "Big Three" with LeBron and Anthony Davis, but the combination didn't work as well as hoped, plus both James and AD missed significant time due to injury en route to L.A. missing the playoffs.

It seemed as though the Lakers would have preferred to move on from Westbrook, but he opted in for the 2022-23 season, and his high salary made him difficult to trade.

Because of that, the Lakers are rolling with a core of James, Davis and Westbrook again, with only minimal changes around them as far as the supporting cast goes.

The biggest change was the firing of Vogel and hiring of Ham as head coach, and it is clear that he is already putting his mark on the team by testing out Westbrook as a bench player.

It typically isn't easy for a nine-time All-Star, one-time NBA MVP and potential future Hall of Famer like Westbrook to accept a lesser role, but given how things went last year, it may give both Westbrook and the team as a whole their best chance to succeed.