Lakers fans, are you comfortable with another season with Russell Westbrook in Forum blue and gold?
It looks more and more like the Lakers have grown comfortable (to use Dan Woike’s word from the LA Times) with the idea of at least starting the season with him. After spending the summer looking for a trade that moved Westbrook out of town (they haven’t stopped but a deal appears unlikely in the short term), the Lakers are readying to move into training camp with Westbrook in a key role. The latest reports along those lines come from Marc Stein, who reports Westbrook will attend LeBron James‘ traditional pre-season minicamp.
Word is that another Lakers minicamp is likely in coming days and that Russell Westbrook would indeed attend if it comes together. Any sort of pre-camp gathering involving LeBron and his fellow purple-and-gold vets would represent a key step in the Lakers’ efforts to move past all the tension that bubbled throughout last season’s rocky 33-49 campaign, bringing James and Anthony Davis together with Westbrook and the newly acquired Patrick Beverley before the Lakers report for their first practices under new coach Darvin Ham on Sept. 26.
And no, the Lakers are not going to do with Westbrook what the Rockets did with John Wall last season and ask him to go away from the team.
…two well-placed sources have expressed to me with even greater conviction that the Lakers lean very strongly against the concept of sending Westbrook home a la John Wall in Houston last season in the event that they can’t find a trade for him. Sources maintain that Ham is determined to establish a real role for Westbrook if he remains a Laker.
Westbrook and his Lakers teammates are trying to heal any wounds from last season and beyond, including Westbrook and Patrick Beverley talking recently (their beef goes back nearly a decade).
Starting with new coach Darvin Ham at his initial press conference to team owner/governor Jeanie Buss through that Beverley Tweet, everyone with the Lakers has said the right things about bringing Westbrook back and finding him a role that works. As tends to happen with all teams heading toward the start of the season, everyone is optimistic and promising to do whatever it takes to win.
However, saying all the right things and doing them can be two different things. Two big questions hang over the Lakers and Westbrook this season:
First, will Westbrook willingly accept a role? In clutch minutes is he willing to be a decoy in the corner or work out of the dunker’s spot, so as not to crowd the lane for LeBron or Anthony Davis? Along those same lines, how well will Westbrood defend, and what happens the first time Ham benches him in the clutch to get Beverley and better defenders on the court?
Second, what happens when adversity strikes? Everyone saying the right thing can become finger-pointing quickly when losses pile up. The Lakers first six games include the defending champion Warriors, a finally healthy Clippers team that is one of the favorites to come out of the West, two games against Nikola Jokic and the finally healthy Nuggets, plus the improved Timberwolves. How does everyone in the locker room react if the Lakers get off to a slow start?
The Lakers will also have other questions to answer, including will Westbrook be on the team past the trade deadline — but if they don’t answer the ones about integrating Westbrook through good times and bad, it will be another long season in Los Angeles.