Lakers News: Darvin Ham Praises Russell Westbrook Embracing Reserve Role, Says ‘Door Not Closed’ On Him Starting
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham decided to try something different in the team’s final preseason game, but something that many have called for. For the first time since his rookie season, Russell Westbrook came off the bench as Ham wanted to see how he looked leading the second unit.

From a strategic standpoint, the move makes sense as it allows Westbrook more time to operate with the ball in his hands as he is used to while allowing Ham to place another shooter around LeBron James in the Lakers’ starting lineup. But a move like this to a player of Westbrook’s stature requires the player to completely buy in.

Thankfully for Ham, Westbrook did just that when the head coach revealed his plan to him, praising the Lakers point guard for embracing the role and believing he would thrive in it, via Spectrum SportsNet:

“He’s 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, ‘Yea coach whatever you need me to do.’ You can’t take that for granted. For a player of his stature to be willing to try something different, something that he’s unaccustomed to. He’s started a bunch of games in this league and performed at the highest level in this league, hell even being an MVP.

“So for him to trust us and trust what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to take some notes on, to see if him being in that part of the rotation has any benefit to us as a whole, again my hats off to him I salute him because a lot of guys would’ve had a lot of pushback. Even if it’s a preseason game, he totally was selfless in that moment and I expect him to come out and come off the bench. He’ll be the first sub and he’ll play at a high level I’m sure.”

As far as why Ham made the choice to try Westbrook off the bench, he went into detail as to why he wanted to give it a look while also making it clear that the regular season lineups are still not locked:

“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’re not gonna have LeBron James play without the ball in his hands for 85% of his minutes that he’s on the floor. At some point you’ve gotta allow him to orchestrate, same with Russ. To create some type of balance we wanted to look at this setup of this type of rotation to see if it works for us. The door is not closed on Russ starting, the door is not closed on if this works we gotta explore it even further. It’s totally a strategic move.

“We have one preseason game to check it out and see how it looks and hopefully things work out and we’re successful. But we’re not at the finish line, we’re at the starting blocks. We’re not scrambling trying to throw some different lineups out there just to make one last-ditch effort. We’re in the starting blocks, we’re at the beginning of this thing and it’s a marathon so you’ll see a lot of different things that we try, not just finishing up the preseason, but early in the regular season.”

Unfortunately for Ham and the Lakers, the head coach didn’t get too much of a chance to show what he could do in a bench role as Westbrook left the game early due to a hamstring issue. The latest in a number of injuries to rear their head for the Lakers, including another point guard in Dennis Schroder who is dealing with a finger issue.

The last thing the Lakers need is to go into the season at less than full strength so they will undoubtedly be hoping for the best with Westbrook’s hamstring and that he’ll be ready to go for the season opener.

Westbrook exits Lakers preseason finale with hamstring injury

It is unclear exactly how Westbrook injured his hamstring in the Lakers’ preseason finale against the Sacramento Kings, but the point guard did not return to the game and now his status for the season opener is unknown.

Both Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker IV sat out the game as well although they are expected to play on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors. Troy Brown Jr. has already been ruled out while Schroder’s status is also unclear with his finger issue.

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