Frank Vogel wanted to do it — and reportedly had clearance from management — but feared the backlash. Darvin Ham tried to put it off, but with the team 0-4 and in desperate need of shooting and change, he’s leaning into it.
Russell Westbrook will come off the bench in a sixth-man role for the Lakers Friday night against the Timberwolves — and that will remain the plan in the future, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to bring guard Russell Westbrook off the bench vs. Minnesota tonight, allowing him to play more as the primary playmaker for the second unit, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 28, 2022
The Lakers plan on bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench if Anthony Davis is able to play/start tonight, a source confirms. Hope is to establish Westbrook as the leader of the second unit, give him more freedom to play his way
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) October 28, 2022
As noted by both reporters, Anthony Davis is questionable and a game-time decision Friday night due to a sore back. He was clearly grabbing it and in some discomfort at the end of the Lakers’ loss to the Nuggets Wednesday.
The challenge — and occasional clash — between Westbrook and the coaching staff is that Westbrook has played one, ball-dominant, alpha dog style his entire career, and while his skills have eroded some with age he does not want to change. Ham wants Westbrook setting picks, sometimes being a decoy in the corner, moving and cutting off the ball, all things Westbrook has never been great at but rarely has been asked to do. Ham rightfully wants the ball in the hands of LeBron James and Davis, so Ham (and before him, Vogel) asked Westbrook to play a role and found him resistant.
The hope is that the Lakers can sit LeBron and Davis at the same time and let “Russ be Russ” with the second unit. In theory, he can play his way.
However, Westbrook came off the bench once in the preseason, played five minutes before tweaking his hamstring, and said after the game that coming off the bench was part of the reason for his injury.
Bringing Westbrook off the bench is the right move for the Lakers, whether or not Westbrook buys into it. However, it doesn’t solve the Lakers’ other problems of shooting and floor spacing. The Lakers’ issues are more about overall roster construction than one player.
But maybe this one player change can shake things up and get the Lakers a win.