Lakers Rumors: Russell Westbrook Bench Experiment to Continue into Regular Season

Erin WalshOctober 16, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 9: Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up before the game against the Golden State Warriors on October 9, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers ended the preseason by bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench, and head coach Darvin Ham will continue experimenting with the veteran point guard in that role during the regular season, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin.

Westbrook played five minutes off the bench in a 133-86 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. He notched one assist before exiting with a hamstring injury.

Ahead of the Lakers' preseason finale, Ham told reporters that Westbrook's movement to the bench was not considered a "demotion" but rather a "realignment." He added that "the door is not closed" on the veteran starting this season.

McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski also reported Friday that it's possible Westbrook serves in a sixth-man role for the Lakers this year.

When Ham was hired as head coach of the Lakers to replace Frank Vogel, he was asked if playing Westbrook off the bench was a possibility. Westbrook laughed at the idea, but given his performance during the 2021-22 campaign, the question was warranted.

The nine-time All-Star put together arguably his worst season in the NBA during his first year in L.A., averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from deep in 78 games.

Westbrook has not played off the bench since his rookie year with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2008-09 season, so doing so for the Purple and Gold in 2022-23 could be quite the adjustment.

However, Westbrook coming off the bench would put significantly less pressure on him to succeed alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It's possible he has some success without those two.

The Lakers attempted to trade Westbrook during the offseason, but his $47 million salary and decline in performance make him a tough move. In addition, the Purple and Gold were unwilling to attach the necessary first-round draft picks to offload him.

Wojnarowski reported Friday that the Lakers "will start engaging teams again" on a potential Westbrook trade. However, it's unclear which franchises might be interested in adding the 2008 fourth overall pick, especially given his salary, expiring contract and recent performance.

If the Lakers are willing to part with their 2027 and 2029 first-round draft picks in a deal, though, it will become a different conversation.