Coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers will bring former most valuable player Russell Westbrook off the bench for their preseason finale Friday night, sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Times.
Westbrook last came off the bench in an NBA game on Nov. 28, 2008, during his rookie season. Members of the Lakers organization and coaching staff pushed for the team to take this step last season, but former head coach Frank Vogel believed keeping Westbrook as a starter gave the team its best chance at figuring things out while keeping the nine-time All-Star engaged.
The decision to bring Westbrook off the bench comes after Ham said Thursday he would use a sixth different starting lineup this preseason in their Friday finale against the Kings.
“It’s different combinations of seeing different guys play together,” Ham said Thursday. “You have to prepare yourself, you‘ve got to get out in front of the fact that there’s going to be injuries. We don’t want them to happen. We don’t want them to happen to any of our guys, let alone our main guys. So, you just have to prepare yourself and be at the forefront of that by plugging in different lineups, different players and different positions so that when that day comes you feel a little bit more prepared.
“Not only the player or the coach, but the whole team, because they’ve seen those lineups out there before that. We’ll have our main guys, but I want to institute different combinations.”
The hope is Westbrook can play with more freedom and familiarity with the second unit in a style that suits his skills as a lead guard. Sources said Westbrook and Ham discussed this possibility over the summer.
Following a quiet performance Wednesday against Minnesota, when Westbrook only attempted three shots, Ham was asked about Westbrook‘s lack of aggressiveness.
“In terms of Russ, there’s running lanes, there are guys that are willing passers that are going to find him,” Ham said. “We just have to commit to our running habits, to our spacing. He can find himself in the corner, he can find himself in the dunker, he can find himself pushing and leading the break. I think you saw all of that when we played Phoenix in Vegas. It’s something that we’ve got to work at. And again, man, it’s just October. The system just doesn’t click overnight. Guys got to get accustomed to different habits and different ways of spacing, being in different positions. That’s why we practice, go over certain things in shootaround.
“We’re trying to water that plant so that as we get further along, opening up that season two months in, three months in, four months in, this thing … things don’t happen overnight. You’re talking about an individually talented roster, not only in terms of Russ. AD, LeBron — there are things all of them need to do better.”
Turner reported from Los Angeles.