After hiring Darvin Ham as the new head coach, the Los Angeles Lakers’ next action item to take care of is determining Russell Westbrook’s future following the guard’s difficult first year in L.A.
The Lakers reportedly asked Ham and other candidates for the head coaching position how they would utilize Westbrook alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis next year. The 2017 NBA MVP was initially expected to leave L.A. after a disastrous 2021-22 season, particularly considering his fallout with former head coach Frank Vogel.
But more and more signs point to Westbrook remaining with the Purple and Gold for the 2022-23 campaign. The 33-year-old guard was present during Ham’s introductory press conference. Also, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBA Countdown that Westbrook is reportedly looking forward to working with the new Lakers head coach—and that he is now likely to officially opt in to the final year of his contract, worth $47 million, at the end of the month:
“Westbrook really expressed tremendous enthusiasm for the Darvin Ham hire, really has started to connect with him. On a human level, he said he really admires his path to becoming a head coach. His no-nonsense approach, results-oriented, those are all things Russell Westbrook said he really identified with. One thing he really loved hearing from Darvin Ham so far, the idea that not only is he going to hold Russell Westbrook accountable as they move forward but he’s going to hold the entire team accountable and certainly that’s, in his mind, a step for this organization. Now, Russell Westbrook can opt into the final year of his contract at $47 million. He’s expected to do that at the end of this month but Russell Westbrook really enthusiastic in getting to know Darvin Ham so far and expects to talk a lot more with him about his role, how he fits into it as they move through the summer toward training camp.”
Previous reports claimed that other NBA teams didn’t want to take on Westbrook’s contract without receiving at least one first-round pick in exchange, forcing the Lakers to reconsider their plans of parting ways with the guard this summer.
Ham believes Westbrook still has a lot to offer
During his first official appearance as Lakers head coach, Ham praised Westbrook and said he can see the guard fit into his system. “Russell, don’t get it messed up. Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there’s still a ton left in that tank,” Ham said.
“I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off. I’m gonna approach him like I do every player I’ve ever encountered. We’re gonna 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, Russ, AD. And again share the load defensively and offensively.”
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