Before the Los Angeles Lakers’ final preseason game, ahead of Tuesday night’s opener against the Golden State Warriors, new coach Darvin Ham announced that Russell Westbrook would be coming off the bench. It’s the first time Westbrook came off the bench since his rookie year, but Ham insisted it wasn’t a punishment or demotion.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham on Russell Westbrook coming off the bench tonight: “It’s not a demotion; it’s a realignment.”— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) October 15, 2022
The realignment only lasted five minutes. Westbrook entered the game with 7:30 left in the first quarter, and exactly five game minutes later, he was hobbling to the locker room with a hamstring injury. His final line? 0-2 with one assist, one foul, and zero points. The Lakers lost to the Sacramento Kings, 133-86. Finally, the Kings got their revenge for the 2002 Western Conference Finals!
Meanwhile, the Lakers HR department is working overtime with Westbrook, counseling him about his non-demotion demotion, and assuring him that...You know what, they’re just going to try to trade him to the Pacers again.
“The Lakers at some point here will start engaging teams again on possible Russell Westbrook trades. They paused it at the start of training camp.”@wojespn on the Lakers’ plans— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 14, 2022
It’s not clear how bad the Westbrook injury is. He may play Tuesday night, and he may be “realigned” to a bench role then as well. But he’s only one of their injured players. They brought back scoring guard and noted bag fumbler Dennis Schroder for backcourt depth, but he’s out with a finger injury. When will he be back? Maybe not for a while.
"The Lakers do have some worry that this could be a long-term injury for him."— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) October 14, 2022
- @ShamsCharania on Dennis Schroder pic.twitter.com/p4nZ9zsZ6w
Lonnie Walker IV, the Lakers’ prized mid-level signing, sat out the game with an ankle injury. Juan Toscano-Anderson returned from his back injury, and scored three points in 24 minutes. Anthony Davis missed his second preseason game as a precautionary measure for his own lower back injury. Troy Brown Jr. has missed the entire preseason with his own back injury, and won’t be back for the opener.
Look, the results of preseason basketball don’t even matter, even when you lose to THE SACRAMENTO KINGS BY FORTY-SEVEN POINTS. But injuries do matter! At this point, the Lakers’ top backups for Tuesday are the recovering Walker, Austin Reaves (the poor man’s Alex Caruso), and JTA, who was the Warriors’ 14th man last season. 19-year-old Max Christie started tonight. Damian Jones - yes, that Damian Jones - is starting at center. His backup is Thomas Bryant, who - can you believe this - is also recovering from a long-term injury.
Coach Ham wants a new commitment to defense, because that’s what every new coach wants, and the Lakers are essentially relying on Patrick Beverley for that defense. He’s 34 years old, and he might play 24 minutes per game. Ham also wants to make Anthony Davis the No. 1 offensive option. That might sound familiar, because LeBron James also said he wanted to run the offense through AD in 2019. They did not do that. In 2014, after returning to Cleveland, LeBron said “This is Kyrie’s show.” It was not Kyrie’s show. Until we see otherwise, we’re going to continue to assume that the offense for a LeBron James team is going to run through LeBron James.
You can truly never count out a LeBron James team. But if you have to play a LeBron James team, catching them when half the rotation is hobbling is the ideal time. That’s what Tuesday night is looking like. But the Lakers don’t have much time to wait. After all, the next two years are still Patrick Beverley’s.