For as long as he remains a Laker, there will be an awkward dynamic when Russell Westbrook takes the court in the purple and gold. The front office’s consistent shopping of the guard throughout this past offseason gave a pretty clear indication of the team’s desire not to have him on the roster.
But without a deal being reached, Westbrook is back to being a part of a new-look Lakers team under first-year head coach Darvin Ham. Monday marked his and the team’s first appearance of the 2022-23 season as the Lakers fell to the Kings in the preseason opener, one in which Westbrook played well enough in 15 minutes of action.
Following the game, Ham addressed Westbrook’s performance and the dynamic that is going to continue to exist throughout the season.
“Russ is a Los Angeles Laker,” Ham said. “I’m the coach. We talk about Laker business, more specifically the business of basketball that we have together in terms of how we’re going to play, how he’s going to be effective in the system. Any outside noise? We don’t pay attention to it. It’s pretty difficult when you have smart phones and all that now these days but at the end of the day, since I got the job, he’s been nothing but supportive.
“He’s a Los Angeles Lakers the last time I checked and I’m really not mad at that. And he showed tonight he’s going to thrive in this system.”
It’s the type of response you’d want and expect from your head coach given the situation. And there’s really not much else he can do about the matter. To Ham’s credit, he’s said all the right things about Westbrook since he took over the job. Before, during and now after the trade speculation of the summer, he navigated matters as well as he could.
But, ultimately, there’s only so much that can be done here to smooth things over in the short term. The trade discussions are still going to exist and it’s still going to feel awkward cheering for Westbrook knowing the front office will ship him out as soon as they can once the right deal is available.
Whether or not Westbrook can succeed in Ham’s system feels inconsequential to a certain degree. Everything about his tenure in Lakers feels temporary moving forward and it’s going to be hard for anyone to successfully navigate that landscape in the coming weeks and months.