As the Lakers inch closer and closer to the start of training camp, the likelihood of Russell Westbrook being on the roster only continues to grow. Trade partners are becoming more sparse, the options are becoming more limited and Westbrook is looking more and more like another guard on the Lakers roster.
Now, will he be a starting guard on the Lakers roster? That depends.
The Lakers’ acquisition of Patrick Beverley made him the latest guard to join a crowded backcourt without any clear frontrunners for either starting position. Because of his contract, most would expect Westbrook to still be considered a starter but according to Darvin Ham, who spoke at PatBev’s introductory press conference on Tuesday, those spots will still have to be earned.
Ham said that Westbrook and Beverley could definitely start together “If they play defense.” But nothing has been decided yet. He cited good workouts of late from Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves, and said there will be real competition for jobs.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 6, 2022
Darvin Ham says defense will be a major key when asked if he can envision starting Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook together. Ham mentioned Kendrick Nunn impressing in offseason workouts so far.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 6, 2022
In theory, Ham’s approach would breed competition and hold players accountable. However, how many times have coaches said the starting positions would be up grabs based on some arbitrary standard and then not based their decisions on that very standard?
The unfortunate truth is that locker room politics exist and it’s not easy to bench veterans. It requires a lot of backing of the front office and other members of the roster to do so. Because if we’re being honest and Ham is making his decision based on their defense, Russ is not going to start. It’s been many years since defense has been a strength of his game and he certainly didn’t give a damn about it last year.
Again, having an open competition for the starting guards spots is great in theory and if Ham and the Lakers are going to be honest about it, it spells good things for the Lakers this season. PatBev is the type of player to hold guys accountable and apply that type of defense-first mindset. It’ll just be a matter of whether Ham is steadfast enough to apply it...and if Russ actually applies himself and believes Ham’s words.