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Darvin Ham says Russell Westbrook coming off the bench isn’t a ‘demotion’ but a ‘realignment’

According to Darvin Ham, benching Russell Westbrook wasn’t done to punish the nine-time All-Star but to experiment with the possibility of him running the second unit. 

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Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

It only took new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham four games to bring Russell Westbrook off the bench — a move the former coach hesitated with and frankly never did last season. Ham, who mentioned that Friday’s game versus the Sacramento Kings was going to be a dry run of what to expect this season, assigned Patrick Beverley to take over Westbrook’s starting job.

When Ham was asked moments before Friday’s game tipoff about his decision to not start Westbrook, he said that both he and Westbrook consensually agreed on the idea. According to Ham, this move wasn’t done to punish the nine-time All-Star but to experiment and observe where the possibility of Westbrook being the sixth man takes them.

“It’s not a demotion, it’s a realignment,” Ham said in his pre-game presser on Friday. ”He totally understood, totally looked me in the eye and said, ‘Yeah coach whatever you need me to do.’ And yeah, you can’t take that for granted. A player of his stature to be willing to try something different, something he’s unaccustomed to. I mean, he started a bunch of games in this league and performed at the highest level in this league, hell, even being an MVP.

“So for him to trust us and trust what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to take some notes on, seeing if him being in that part of that rotation has any benefit to us as a whole, again my hat’s off to him, I salute him, cuz a lot of guys would’ve had a lot of pushback even if it’s a preseason game. He totally was selfless in that moment, and I expect him to come out, come off the bench. He’ll be the first sub, and he’ll play at a high level.

But despite Ham’s new plan to bring Westbrook off the bench, the Lakers didn’t benefit from it at all. They concluded their preseason stint with an abysmal and embarrassing 133-86 loss to the Sacramento Kings as the purple and gold looked lifeless, were ran out off the floor, and performed like the horrific team they were last season. Westbrook, who played just five minutes and only literally had one assist in the stat sheet, left the game and never returned after the first quarter due to a left hamstring injury, though Ham said after Friday’s loss that Westbrook was fine and will be re-evaluated on Saturday.

This preseason stint for the Lakers further indicated that they are nowhere close to being considered championship contenders, or even a competitive team in the loaded Western Conference. Only time will tell if Los Angeles decides to stay put or not, both with their plans to bring Westbrook off the bench and continue with this roster as currently constructed. For now, Ham has made it clear that the possibility of Westbrook starting or not could go either way.

“The door is not closed on Russ starting, and the door is not closed if this works for us.”

After six exhibition games, it’s clear as day that Ham and the Lakers still have their work cut out for them. We’ll know on Tuesday’s season opener against the Golden State Warriors where Westbrook stands, and if it’s potentially the beginning of the end.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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