Darvin Ham holds power to bench Russell Westbrook

If Russell Westbrook returns for a second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he will be in the starting lineup on opening night. But for how long?

According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buhahead coach Darvin Ham will have more leeway to bench the nine-time All-Star than was awarded to Frank Vogel:

“Based on the current roster, I project the closing lineup to look something like this: Davis, Juan Toscano-Anderson, James, Brown and Reaves. I think Westbrook will often be in there, too, but it will depend on how he’s shooting, his decision-making and his defense…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…

With the fifth spot, Westbrook may have the advantage considering his status, but he may end up rotating with Brown, Nunn or Walker, depending on how they’re shooting that night.”

Beginning in January, Vogel sat Westbrook down the stretch on four occasions (by my recollection). Each time, Westbrook was struggling mightily, though, unsurprisingly, was not happy about the perceived disrespect.

Generally speaking, Vogel actually remained committed to Westbrook throughout the season, despite Westbrook’s inefficient play, clunky fit, not to mention constant shade-throwing and intransigence behind the scenes, Ultimately, the Lakers organization gave Vogel the OK to sit their highest-paid player.

Should the Lakers run it back with Russ, the biggest question will be if Westbrook genuinely adapts his game and, more importantly, his mentality under Ham — with whom he purportedly has a stronger relationship than Vogel. Since being hired, Ham has repeatedly insisted that he’s excited to coach Westbrook and that he and his point guard are on the same page about Westbrook’s expected role — more defensive focus, more off-ball action and, crucially, more accountability. Yet, Ham’s optimism was undermined when Westbrook’s former agent penned a letter indicating Westbrook would prefer a trade rather than accept a new role.

Clearly, the Lakers have internally entertained the notion that Westbrook may have to come off the bench. Tellingly, for all the praise Ham has showered on Russ throughout the summer, he’s been notably vague when discussing whether Russ will start and close games.

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We’ll see how this goes!

Knicks, Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle

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