The Los Angeles Lakers introduced Darvin Ham as their new head coach on Monday afternoon, and Russell Westbrook — who was in the room watching Ham’s presser — was unsurprisingly a major topic.
In recent months the expectation has shifted from the Lakers looking to trade Westbrook to them keeping him through next season so as not to have to give up a future first round pick just to move on from him. That, of course, means something pretty significant has to change next year based on how poorly this season went and Westbrook voicing his frustrations with Frank Vogel and the previous coaching staff’s usage of him in his postseason exit interview.
Ham was asked about how he felt Westbrook fit into his plans and made clear that he still believes in Russ, while also noting that he’s going to be asking for buy-in from Westbrook (and LeBron and Anthony Davis) with regards to sharing the load on both ends of the floor.
"Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen. There's still a ton left in that tank."
Lakers new Head Coach Darvin Ham on Westbrook. pic.twitter.com/gYCmWMaeZF
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 6, 2022
It’s not a surprising comment from Ham given the reporting that came out during the search that indicated the next coach would have to sell the Lakers on a plan to turn things around without Russ being traded. Still, it’s clear that Ham does recognize that a considerable portion of the Lakers problem a year ago was commitment on the defensive end and that he’ll need the full team to buy-in, led by its stars, for this to work. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s about the only path forward with Westbrook on the roster and Lakers fans can take some solace in the fact that Ham seems to understand what is needed and have a plan in place to try and make the most of the group — which will need reinforcements in free agency to fill out the roster.
The real question is whether that plan comes to life, and that’ll be incumbent on Westbrook and the rest.