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Ham: Would never put a player in harm's way

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Published in Basketball
Thursday, 20 October 2022 20:46

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers coach Darvin Ham says he and Russell Westbrook have "moved on" and have "an understanding" after the point guard suggested Ham's decision to bring him off the bench in the preseason could have contributed to a minor hamstring injury he suffered.

Ham, however, pushed back at any insinuation that his rotation in the Lakers' preseason finale loss to the Sacramento Kings -- in which Westbrook played just five minutes off the bench before exiting with the strained left hamstring -- had anything to do with the physical setback.

"Let me be clear with this," Ham said before his team hosted the LA Clippers on Thursday. "The Lakers, myself, my staff, we would in no way, shape or form put a player or an employee in harm's way. Physically, mentally, spiritually. We don't stand for that. We're not about that. That's not who we are."

Following the Lakers' 123-109 season-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Westbrook said he "absolutely" believes that coming off the bench against Sacramento could have caused the injury.

"I've been doing the same thing for 14 years straight," he said, referring to starting 1,005 out of 1,022 games in his career. "Honestly, I didn't even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. ... That's something I just wasn't accustomed to."

Ham said the two shared a "brief discussion" about the remarks. Ham went back to Westbrook in the starting lineup against the Warriors and again against the Clippers.

"We moved on, we got an understanding," Ham said. "As the coach of this team, we're going to do what's best for our team to be as successful as it can be. And I'll just leave it at that."

Ham said he understands "respect" and "routine" are important to the former league MVP but acknowledged the team-centric goals he will require Westbrook to meet.

"He's been around a long time. He's been a high-level player for a very long time. So, I know what that's about and how that is," Ham said. "But on the other hand, you have to be prepared to do whatever your team needs you to do. And that's called being a professional. So, however we choose to use him, there has to be a willingness there to sacrifice for your teammates and overall good of the team if that course of action is going to lead to success."

Westbrook played 31 minutes against Golden State and finished with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 4 turnovers.

Ham said he had a "good plan in place" for Westbrook's role moving forward, but added, "based on performance, minutes can go up, minutes can go down."

Ham also said he didn't have a problem with Westbrook saying what he said to reporters after the Warriors game, or with LeBron James' blunt assessment that "we're not a team that's constructed of great shooting" -- even if their comments were interpreted as critiques of the coaching staff and front office.

"It's a grown man's league," Ham said. "Things are going to be said whether it's directed at someone or not. I handle it in stride. I've been around this thing for 26 years. I've been on quiet teams and I've been on a couple of loud teams. But I have the utmost respect for those guys. I believe they have the utmost respect for me. There's nothing taken personal about anything. We address it and we move on."

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