In an interview with Marc Spears of Andscape at the beginning of July (after the Lakers had completed the bulk of their free-agent signings), Darvin Ham said he saw Russell Westbrook as a starter for the 2022-23 Lakers.
Two months later, the Lakers brass doesn’t seem as committed to that line of thought.
First, there was the acquisition of Patrick Beverley, a lead guard who fits perfectly next to LeBron James on paper, thanks to his defense and ability to play off the ball. Then, Ham said that Westbrook and Beverley would have to earn starting roles at Beverley’s introductory press conference, though that seemed to refer to the two of them starting together, not that both players were still working to make the first five. And now, the Lakers have re-signed Dennis Schröder, another lead guard who doesn’t just theoretically fit next to LeBron, but has a proven track record of blowing teams out of the water next to LeBron and Anthony Davis (plus-14.0 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass).
Now, per reporting from Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic, “the prospect of Westbrook coming off the bench is being strongly considered.”
The Lakers could never realistically make Westbrook a part of the second unit in 2021-22, not with the dearth of quality alternatives for Westbrook in the starting five. Now, the team at least has two capable guards in Beverley and Schröder who have played on good playoff teams in recent history to sub in for Westbrook. Notably, both of them are far more adept defensively than Westbrook, which brings an element that last year’s Lakers didn’t have.
There also appears to be more buy-in from Westbrook towards Ham than there ever was with Frank Vogel, and that could allow Ham to put Westbrook in an unconventional role. Then again, Westbrook has started all but 17 games of his NBA career (all of which game in his rookie season) and has dismissively laughed off any suggestion that he come off the bench. As The Athletic piece notes, with Westbrook in the final year of his contract, the Lakers may be less inclined to appease him, but he’s still a nine-time All-Star who believes himself to be one of the best point guards in the league, and definitely the best on the Lakers.
The idea of Westbrook backing up his noted former nemesis and his former Thunder backup in Schröder defies imagination, honestly. Kudos to the Lakers for trying to find a way to make the Westbrook experience palatable, if not outright successful, but this ain’t it. If the Lakers believe Westbrook belongs in the starting lineup, he probably doesn’t belong on the squad altogether.