The Los Angeles Lakers and new coach Darvin Ham made a grave error on Monday.
For some reason, both hooked their wagons to Russell Westbrook.
It’s a big mistake.
It could prove disastrous for the Lakers for a second straight season. And for Ham, it’s just not the way you want to start your head coaching career, being attached to any one player.
For sure, no one expected Ham, hired by the Lakers from the Milwaukee Bucks staff, to be negative or distance himself from any one on his current roster.
That wouldn’t be a good look.
But in his introductory press conference, Ham did all he could to express how he would make Westbrook fit into the Lakers’ system and be a productive player.
It’s ambitious, not smart.
The problem is that Westbrook not working out was a first-guess by most NBA media members and analysts, not a second-guess after the Lakers failed to make even the Play-in Tournament, let alone the traditional postseason.
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Westbrook, the former NBA MVP, wasn’t a fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. You didn’t need a master’s degree in hoops to figure that out.
The best scenario is for the Lakers to move on, and trade him away. Sure, there are huge financial ramifications that come with Westbrook’s enormous final year of his contract. He will make $47.1 million next season.
But the alternative is worse.
Keeping Westbrook for next season would be NBA insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Westbrook didn’t fit from Day 1. How in the world would he fit Year 2?
Nonetheless, there was Ham supporting Westbrook like they were kin.
“Don’t get it messed up: Russell Westbrook is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there’s still a ton left in the tank,” Ham told the media
And Westbrook was there, standing off to the side, in a public show of support of his new coach.
Added Ham, “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off.”
Maybe, it’s because Westbrook has been on four different teams in the last four years. Maybe, it’s because the Lakers actually got worse when they added Westbrook. This past season, they finished 11th in the Western Conference with an embarrassing 33-49 record.
For sure, Ham can have success as a head coach. But linking it to turning Westbrook into something he is not is a risky proposition.
Frank Vogel, the coach that won a championship with the Lakers in 2020, couldn’t make it work. But somehow, we believe that Ham will have the magical formula and turn Westbrook into a different player.
And as much as you want to shake your head at Ham for taking one for the team, most of the blame goes to ownership and the front office.
The people upstairs have refused to take accountability and just admit that they got it wrong. It’s OK. It happens.
Former Detroit Pistons president and GM Joe Dumars had a great saying when it came to making player personnel decisions: It’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right.
Dumars won a championship with Detroit in 2004, beating the star-studded Lakers led by Shaq and Kobe.
The worst thing you can do is force the issue, stick with a move to prove that it was right.
You see it often in the draft. Teams stick with players that clearly aren’t going to pan out.
In this case, Westbrook was a trade. But it’s the same principle.
Westbrook’s style of play doesn’t fit with James’.
Westbrook needs the ball in his fans to be effective. Worse, he’s not a shooter. James needs to be surrounded by shooters. That’s the formula.
And boy, did we see that Westbrook isn’t a shooter. His misfires were on display last season. Unofficially, Westbrook might have set the NBA record for most shots off the side of the backboard a year ago.
Westbrook’s first season playing in his hometown was a total disaster.
It was so bad that the Lakers went three months without winning back-to-back games. That sounds almost impossible when you consider how many cupcake teams there are in this league. But it happened.
Worst of all, the Lakers can’t waste another season for LeBron, who is entering his 20th.
They should move Westbrook at all costs, even if it means giving up a draft pick or taking another team’s bad-contract headache.
Clearly, Westbrook isn’t the answer. The Lakers and Ham should know better.