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

Posted on June 07, 2022

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.