As training camp draws near, it is looking increasingly likely that Russell Westbrook will begin the 2022-23 season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s no secret that the Lakers have tried to trade Westbrook and there may still be deals out there that make sense. But to this point, the Lakers have been hesitant to trade both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks and take on long-term salary unless it drastically improves their title chances.
With Westbrook on the roster, the Lakers are crowded in the backcourt, and it got even more crowded on Friday when it was reported that Dennis Schroder is returning to the team.
While Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has previously said that the plan is for Westbrook to be in the starting lineup, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic are now reporting that the prospect of bringing the 33-year-old off the bench is being strongly considered:
Yet, while the Lakers have been hopeful the Westbrook experiment might be a success this time, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic that the prospect of Westbrook coming off the bench is being strongly considered.
At a minimum, it seems clear Westbrook will have to outplay new addition Patrick Beverley and Schröder if he’s going to retain his starting role. As with most lineup constructions ahead of training camp and the season, it remains a very fluid situation. But sources say first-year head coach Darvin Ham, with the full backing of the organization, is ready and willing to make whatever difficult rotation decisions might lie ahead in the interest of team success.
Outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, all of the Lakers’ starting jobs are up for grabs going into training camp:
Assuming Westbrook isn’t traded anytime soon — and there are strong indications he won’t be — a final determination will be most dependent on how training camp and preseason take shape. The Lakers are expected to have several other battles for starting roles, including Lonnie Walker IV vs. Austin Reaves at shooting guard and Thomas Bryant vs. Damian Jones at center. Only James and Anthony Davis will enter camp with a starting role intact.
To hear that Ham is now considering bringing Westbrook off the bench is surprising considering the first-year head coach has said nothing but positive things about him all summer. With the recent additions of Beverley and Schroder though, the Lakers now have more options should Westbrook not be willing to buying to Ham’s system.
Westbrook hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie season in 2008-09, so it remains to be seen if he would even be willing to accept that.
With training camp looming though, Ham and Rob Pelinka will have a lot of decisions to make that could affect the short and long-term future of the organization.
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