Lakers coach Darvin Ham expects Russell Westbrook to contribute

The Lakers formalized one of their biggest offseason decisions on Monday, unveiling Darvin Ham as the team’s new head coach. And with Russell Westbrook in attendance, Ham and the Lakers made it sound like they had an idea on how to approach the next big decision that lies ahead.

Westbrook – along with Austin Reaves, Wenyen Gabriel and Stanley Johnson – stood next to the makeshift stage at the team’s El Segundo facility and heard Ham say he expected the veteran guard to be with the team next season.

“Don’t break it. Russell is one of the best players our league has seen,” said Ham. “And there’s a ton left in that tank. I don’t know why people keep trying to write him off.”

Russell Westbrook (right) listens to new Lakers coach Darvin Ham during his introductory press conference Monday.

Russell Westbrook (right) listens to new Lakers coach Darvin Ham during his introductory press conference Monday.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Westbrook must exercise the $47 million player option, which counts as a suspension.

Ham’s induction on Monday comes as the Lakers enter a period of major changes within the organization – the roster is set for another churn for the fourth straight offseason since LeBron James was signed.

Ham presented a general vision of what his Lakers would ideally look like.

He said former NBA player Rasheed Wallace, who was an assistant at the University of Memphis last season, is being considered for a spot on his coaching staff, although the situation is still “fluctuating.”

Ham also said he would like the Lakers to emulate some of the style played in Milwaukee and Atlanta, where he was an assistant to coach Mike Budenholzer with players dividing space around the perimeter to open up driving and cutting lanes.

While preaching about strengthening the Lakers’ defense first, he said that ideally, the team would not have a unique identity.

“You hear about these offensive gurus or these defensive gurus – both sides of the ball influence each other,” Ham said. “If you’re able to play great defense, your offense will look great because you’re not playing against solid defense. If you allow people to score, your offense will struggle because you’re playing against a solid defense. So you just have to be versatile.”

Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, said Ham’s hiring was unanimous among the team’s decision-makers.

“It’s easy to be grateful when you find a candidate that you think is an ideal fit for what the franchise is looking for. And that’s what coach Ham represents for us,” said Pelinka.

He cited Ham’s journey – from an NBA roleplaying career to a minor league coach to working with the Lakers under former coach Mike Brown before working with Budenholzer.

Ham was visibly emotional speaking about his former boss, having spent the last nine seasons on his coaching staff.

“Having started with him in Atlanta on his first day as head coach and now having to leave, I thanked him,” Ham said. “I said, ‘Well, at least you dropped me off where you picked me up.’ Because he picked me up here in LA, he was excited, super excited, about the fact that I was coming back to LA.”

While he was vague, Ham said he sees Anthony Davis as “key” to what the Lakers should look like if Ham is able to execute on his vision.
He said he wanted to reduce the “wear and tear” that James was facing.

Asked about Westbrook specifically, Ham said his conversations with the embattled guard made it clear that Westbrook had a desire to make sacrifices.

El Segundo, CA - June 06: New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham speaks to the media.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham speaks to the media Monday at the team’s training center in El Segundo.

(Jay L Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“We have to start in terms of his defensive role,” Ham said. “I expect him to be the same tenacious, energetic player he’s been throughout his career. Many should now have it in their hands without the ball. It could have most of that on the defensive now. But here, too, we have to make sacrifices.”

At the beginning of June, this is all easier said than done. But Ham made it clear that the job didn’t intimidate him, he felt no pressure from a perspective he’d earned in Saginaw, Michigan, where he was once an innocent bystander affected by gun violence.

“I was accidentally shot in the face on April 5, 1988,” he said. “You’re going through something like this, it’s going to be one of two things. It will make you anxious or fearless.

“It made me fearless.” Lakers coach Darvin Ham expects Russell Westbrook to contribute

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