As the Lakers opened the 2022-23 season with media day on Monday, perhaps the biggest topic of discussion was centered on Russell Westbrook. After attempting to trade him for most of the summer, the Lakers now have to reverse course and play ball with Russ at least for part of the season.
The questions now, though, are on how the point guard will be used after a struggle of a 2021-22 season. With multiple other point guard options, Westbrook’s starting spot isn’t guaranteed. But what was once seen as a dealbreaker in moving him to the bench is now a move that Westbrook isn’t taking a hard stance against, as he answered on media day.
“Man, I think I’m just excited to get on the floor, excited to compete, excited to play,” Westbrook said. “I’m looking forward to just start of the season, whatever unfolds, unfolds. I’m just happy and blessed to be able to go play the game I love again.”
Russell Westbrook asked about possibly having to compete for a starter’s spot pic.twitter.com/Vj0pq2mL64— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) September 26, 2022
On Sunday in the hours before the deadline, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN talked to Westbrook about the idea of coming off the bench in which he had a similar quote and reaction.
“I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”
Prior to Russ speaking at media day, head coach Darvin Ham took to the podium and was non-commital himself to the idea of Russ being a starter.
“We’re a ways away. I mean, we have several options,” Ham said about setting his starters. “You know, obviously we signed Dennis, we signed Pat Bev, we got a healthy Kendrick Nunn, along with Russell himself Austin Reaves, we have a variety of options to fulfill in our backcourt.
“But again, as I mentioned, defensively, we got to have a defensive mindset. Those are the guys that’s going to get the minutes, guys who are going out there to get stops and he said, he’s told me personally he’s going to commit to that side of the ball. And that’s what camp is for. We’ll see, we have more than enough options that we’re comfortable with.”
Exactly how long Russ remains a Laker remains to be seen as he’ll certainly continue to be included in trade rumors. To his credit, despite being in rumors all summer, Ham credited Russ’ approach throughout the summer.
Rob Pelinka says Russell Westbrook has been "great" all offseason. Added he has reflected to the organization that he's all-in on doing whatever it takes to win this season.— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) September 26, 2022
Now, all of this is little more than lip service right now. Last season at media day, Russ said all the right things and then largely did all the wrong things in the season. Right now, Russ can say he’s taking an all-in approach to the Lakers this season, but will he have that same mindset if/when he’s benched for the first time in his career?
It’s a weird tightrope the team is going to have to navigate this season for as long as Russ is on the team, balancing between doing what’s best for the team and placating Russ in the process. How they handle that situation could determine how well they do this season, or for at least as Russ is part of it.