Since he first took the job, Darvin Ham has been talking up Russell Westbrook — because Ham knows he may have the former MVP on his roster next season, and he needs the buy-in.
We’ve all had years where we could have done better, had better performances or circumstances didn’t quite go our way. And I think just everyone knows what type of year the Lakers went through last year. And it wasn’t all Russell Westbrook’s fault. When you go back and look at the games missed by LeBron James at different segments add a different set. Those three [Westbrook, James and Anthony Davis] only got to play a total of 22 games together. You’re talking about an 82-game season.
And so just the different various energy injuries with people within the lineup that were dependent upon within the rotation. Russ having to carry a load and you’re trying to go sign, G League guys, you got COVID, people being put in the protocol because of the COVID. So for all of this to be heaped on Russ, it’s kind of unfair, in a sense and unfair reality, to be quite honest.
Ham is right, Westbrook alone was not the problem in Los Angeles last season. However, when the Lakers brought him in the idea was, in part, that he could pick up the slack and carry the team for stretches when an aging LeBron might be out, or when Davis missed time. The Lakers had a -7.3 net rating in the minutes Westbrook played without Davis or LeBron on the court.
That’s not even getting into the issues of buy-in and fit with Westbrook last season.
LeBron, Davis and Westbrook have, if not hugged it out, at least talked on the phone and vowed to “make it work.” This is where Ham has tried to make his mark, trying to both pump up Westbrook and be upfront about what will be asked of him (and that is where the words of Westbrook’s now-former agent are concerning for the Lakers and their fans).
“Don’t get it messed up, Russell is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there’s still a ton left in that tank,” Ham said at his introductory press conference. “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off…
“Russ and I have had some really, really great one-on-one conversations, and the biggest word that came out of those discussions was sacrifice. We’re gonna sacrifice whatever we have to do, and it’s not just Russ. There’s gonna be sacrifices LeBron has to make, that A.D. has to make, all the way down the line of the rest of our roster.”
Ham continues to say all the right things, and he has the presence of personality to make people believe in him. We’ll see what happens when it’s time for the actual sacrifices.