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Russell Westbrook and 3 takeaways from Darvin Ham’s introductory presser with the Los Angeles Lakers

Vincent Frank

There’s been wholesale talk of the Los Angeles Lakers moving off embattled guard Russell Westbrook after just one season.

Westbrook was a disaster in Southern California during a 2021-22 season that saw the Lakers lose an eye-opening 49 games.

Given his lack of fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it has been a foregone conclusion that Westbrook would be out of a job.

That changed early during the Lakers’ search for a new head coach to replace the fired Frank Vogel. Once Los Angeles decided on Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, talk of a Westbrook divorce were muted. That was taken to a whole new level during Ham’s introductory press conference on Monday.

Westbrook made a surprise appearance during said presser, a clear indication that he plans on returning to the Lakers. As for Ham, he defended the former NBA MVP at nearly every turn during a Q&A with the media.

“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.”

New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham on Russell Westbrook, via ESPN

Related: Russell Westbrook and NBA’s highest-paid players

Darvin Ham talks sacrifice, Russell Westbrook in introductory press conference

Russell Westbrook
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

For his part, Westbrook seemed to throw both James and Davis under the bus in the Lakers’ season-ending press conference just a few short weeks ago. It’s an interesting dynamic to look at given King James’ status as the face of the Lakers.

Without getting into specifics, Ham did talk about the need for players to sacrifice if the Lakers are going to rebound next season.

“I’m going to expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been all his entire career. A lot of that now may have him without the ball in his hand. Most of it now may have it on the defensive end. But again, we have to sacrifice. There’s no achieving anything without all parties sharing the load, sacrificing, instead of one-on-one.”

Darvin Ham during Monday’s press conference

There was no sacrifice from Lakers players during the second half of the 2021-22 season. Far too often, we saw a lot of iso ball with James and Westbrook. It didn’t work out with Los Angeles posting a 12-29 record over the final 41 games.

  • Russell Westbrook stats (2021-22): 18.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.1 APG, 44% shooting 30% 3-point

As you can see, Westbrook’s numbers were down clear across the board last season in Los Angeles. In fact, it was his worst statistical performance since his second season in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2009-10.

Perhaps, Westbrook will perform much better without being so ball-dominant. That has defined his career since his days with both James Harden and Kevin Durant in OKC.

Related: Charles Barkley blasts Los Angeles Lakers hiring of Darvin Ham

Darvin Ham puts onus on Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers players

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a common theme from the Lakers’ brass since all the way back in February when the team was inactive at the NBA trade deadline. In short, the players made their bed and now they have to lie in it. Remember, James is the one who pushed for the Westbrook trade last summer. It’s led to a questionable relationship between the four-time NBA champion and his organization.

“My interpretation was that the Lakers’ front office and ownership — the Lakers’ organization from ownership on down — decided, ‘You guys got yourselves into this; this is the bed that you made. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, all of the future Hall-of-Famers: This was your choice of roster and team, go make it work.

And we are not going to mortgage our future in terms of draft picks or taking on luxury tax now because this team isn’t working yet. Go make it work.”

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne on Los Angeles Lakers’ current situation

Russell Westbrook will be back with the Los Angeles Lakers

That’s the biggest takeaway from Ham’s press conference. He talked about the star guard in the present-tense. Said guard showed up to the press conference. Someone who is on the outs wouldn’t have done that. Logically, the Lakers are seemingly stuck with Westbrook. His contract is an absolute albatross given his downtick in production.

  • Russell Westbrook contract: $47.06 million player option for 2022-23; free agent in 2023

There’s no reason to believe that Westbrook will decline his player option for next season. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ brass has pushed back against giving up assets in a hypothetical trade. Ham seemed to suggest that this is the case in his presser.

“My goal is (to) continue with the development of our younger players and make those guys comfortable where they’re not having to run to a telephone booth and put a cape on and try to save the day.”

Los Angeles Lakers’ Darvin Ham

At issue here is the fact that Los Angeles’ current roster is not anywhere near a conference title contender out west.

The defending Western Confernce champion Golden State Warriors are three wins from the NBA title. The Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies are all heads and shoulders ahead of the Lakers. Meanwhile, a healthy Los Angeles Clippers team would vastly outpace the Lakers in the Southern California market.

The hope here is that Ham can get the most out of this veteran-laden roster while helping the youngsters improve. Short of tha that happening, the positive vibes we saw from Southern California on Monday will quickly be a thing of the past.