Frank Vogel was given the okay to bench Russell Westbook at the end of games if it was best for the team — and he did it occasionally. He didn’t do it more often for fear of completely losing Westbrook. Instead, he lost his job.
Now Darvin Ham takes over the big chair for the Lakers and it looks like he will have Westbrook to deal with, at least at the start of the season. Ham also will have the authority to bench Westbrook at the end of games if that’s best for the team to win, reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will have more power to bench Westbrook down the stretch of games, according to league sources. (Former head coach Frank Vogel did so a few times last season). That could eventually extend to removing Westbrook from the starting lineup as well.
Buha wisely states that Westbrook may close some games for the Lakers, depending upon matchups and needs. If the need is shot creation, he should be on the court. If the Lakers need to get a stop… there may be better options.
The real challenge for Ham is keeping Westbrook interested, engaged, and making sacrifices for the team if he doesn’t close — or doesn’t start — games. That was always Vogel’s biggest fear, that things could get worse, and it’s why Ham has talked up Westbrook from his initial press conference. Ham is a more forceful personality, but if Westbrook mentally checks out there is only so much anyone can do (this team already has LeBron James on it as a locker room leader).
The Lakers’ preferred option would be for Ham to have to figure out how to fit Kyrie Irving in the rotation — or maybe Buddy Hield and Myles Turner — but for now it looks as if Russell Westbrook will be in camp. How Ham uses and gets through to Westbrook will go a long way in deciding how good the Lakers are (along with how healthy and engaged Anthony Davis is).