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#pounditSunday, September 25, 2022

New Lakers coach reveals his plan for Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook warms up

Oct 6, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook prior to the preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There seems to be a growing acceptance that Russell Westbrook will be on the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster to start next season. That means new head coach Darvin Ham is going to have to find a way to get the best out of the veteran guard after a nightmare first season with the team.

Ham appeared on ESPN’s “NBA Today” Monday and had a surprising answer when asked what his plan was for Westbrook. Ham spoke about working on Westbrook’s defense, suggesting that the coach believes improvements there will be a catalyst for the veteran guard.

“I want him to go back to being a pitbull on the defensive end, and everything else is going to flow from there,” Ham said. “We’re going to implement some different running habits that I think is going to benefit him, different areas on the floor he’ll be able to attack from. I want him to set a tone defensively for our team. Get back to guarding, guarding, guarding.

“We’ll partner with our performance team to make sure Russell can compete at that extremely high level defensively. I want him to get back to guarding at a championship level.”

This probably is not the answer most would have expected to improve Westbrook’s fortunes with the Lakers. Still, Ham might be onto something. Westbrook was regarded as a player with the tools to be a great defender in his earliest NBA seasons, but that has largely fallen by the wayside. Westbrook was so poor defensively last season that it got him benched by former coach Frank Vogel on at least one occasion.

The Lakers appear to still be trying to trade Westbrook, but his $47 million salary may make any move impossible. If he isn’t moved, it remains to be seen whether Westbrook is willing or able to give Ham what he wants defensively. Getting that buy-in may be a big factor in whether Ham is a success with Los Angeles or not.

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