Can Russell Westbrook revitalize himself under Darvin Ham?
Russell Westbrook will likely be a Hall of Famer when his career comes to a close.
His career is the stuff of legend, complete with an MVP award, several All-Star selections and the most triple-doubles ever recorded at the NBA level.
But last season represented a steep decline from Westbrook's usual production, and that came as a huge disappointment for Lakers fans. So much so that many clamored for the team to begin evaluating options for his release — either via trade or by flat-out cutting him.
But the Lakers' front office is adamant about keeping him, at least for the time being. And according to the team's new head coach, Westbrook is still capable of providing valuable contributions.
"Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen," Darvin Ham told reporters in his introductory press conference Monday. "And there's still a ton left in that tank."
"I don't know why people tend to try to write him off," Ham went on. "I'm going to approach him like I do every player I've ever encountered. We're going to talk about our running habits, with the ball, without the ball. And again, the team, the rhythm of the team and trying to establish a rhythm with LeBron [James], Russ, Anthony Davis.
"And again, share the load defensively and offensively. Defensively is where you're going to see us make our biggest leaps and bounds. We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball, or we don't have a chance to do anything. Our offense won't even matter if we don't get stops."
Ham's commitment to integrating Westbrook efficiently into L.A.'s lineup is a hopeful actuality for Lakers Nation, which is well aware of the troubles Westbrook had with previous coach Frank Vogel.
But despite Ham's confidence in his newest PG, Nick Wright doesn't believe he can fix Westbrook's plaguing issues.
"It's not just Ham's comments. But they're adding Rasheed Wallace to the staff, and there's a clip going around the internet of 'Sheed right before 2021's play-in saying that Russ is the best player in the league. That guy's going to be on the coaching staff! Maybe the best player in the Drew League! There's no fixing this. All they need Russ to do is become a totally different player."
Chris Broussard opined that Westbrook should have an incredibly small leash this upcoming season.
"I'm not 100% out on him," he told his cohosts, "but I'm 90% out."
"Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and LeBron James on the floor together, in today's NBA, that's not going to work together. There's not enough spacing, and defensively, I think they'd be challenged. When he talked about defense, he talked about Russ being an elite defender. Russ has never been an elite defender, and to think at 33 years of age he's all of a sudden going to become that … if it's not working out, they need to cut him."
Kevin Wildes compared Ham's comments about the defensive end to Vogel's defensive approach.
"I don't think we've ever seen Russ guard at a championship level," he stated.
"Frankly, he's never won one, so that disqualifies itself. Frank Vogel's whole thing was defense. Playing hardcore defense is not a new concept. They were third in total defense in 2019, first in 2020, and 21st last year. What's the big difference? Russ showed up."
"When has Russ ever gone all out and been tenacious on the defensive end?" Bayless questioned.
"Was Darvin Ham talking to the same Russell Westbrook that I heard give that exit interview and blame everybody but himself?" Sharpe asked.
He added that a Westbrook trade could still be in the works.
"$47.1 million makes it very difficult to trade a player of Westbrook's caliber considering who he is at this juncture. Clearly, he's a great all-time player. But he's never done it without the ball in his hands or on the defensive end."
Westbrook averaged 18.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 7.1 APG last season. He had the lowest PER (15.0) of his career, third-highest turnover percentage (17.3) and lowest BPM (-1.6). His win shares total (1.7) was also the lowest of his career, and the first time that number has dipped below two since his rookie season.