There were a lot of question marks surrounding the Lakers and what their starting lineup would be leading up to the game. Darvin Ham used six different starting lineups in six preseason games, including testing out Russell Westbrook coming off the bench in the finale.
Many thought Ham would continue that into the regular season, but he instead went back to Westbrook as his starting point guard. Part of the reason for that is that Westbrook suffered a hamstring injury just five minutes into his first shift against the Sacramento Kings, so Ham and the coaching staff weren’t able to get a true look at what he could do coming off the bench.
Westbrook’s bench history
The last time Westbrook came off the bench in an NBA regular season game was in his rookie year, so it’s obviously something he’s not accustomed to doing. In fact, he even said he believes coming off the bench contributed to the minor hamstring injury he suffered.
Westbrook said after the season opener:
“Absolutely. I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. For me, obviously the way I play the game, it’s fast-paced, quick, stop-and-go. And I just happened to, when I subbed in, I felt something. Thought it was… didn’t know what it was, but I wasn’t going to risk it in a preseason game. But definitely wasn’t something I was used to. Wasn’t warm enough. But that’s something I just wasn’t accustomed to.”
On the surface, this makes some sense considering athletes are creatures of habit and Westbrook is an extreme example of that.
When thinking about it a little more though, is it possible that Westbrook did this to prove a point?
Westbrook has said that he is willing to buy in to whatever Ham asks of him, and technically he did that. But if Westbrook says he physically cannot come off the bench, well then I guess that isn’t an idea he will have to buy into this season.
What does this mean for Westbrook’s future?
I would be less skeptical about Westbrook’s hamstring injury if he didn’t pull a similar stunt last season. After Frank Vogel kept Westbrook on the bench during crunchtime, the point guard complained of a back injury and attributed it to not being used to sitting on the bench for long stretches.
Throughout the course of Westbrook’s career, he has proven to be stubborn, wanting to play his way on his terms.
When he was one of the top players in the league, that wasn’t a problem. It was something his teams could live with. But now that Westbrook’s play is declining? He no longer has that luxury.
This season is a big one for Westbrook in the sense of not only wanting to get the Lakers back in the postseason mix, but also to get his career back on track before entering free agency next summer.
How about a swap?
It’s no secret that Westbrook’s name has been in trade rumors, and even if he is not dealt, this is likely to be his final season in a Lakers uniform.
With that being said, other teams are watching. And while they’re watching, they’re asking themselves if Westbrook is actually willing to buy in to a lesser role to help a team win.
This has happened time and time again with aging stars across the league. Some have been able to adjust their game and prolong their careers as a result with Vince Carter and Paul Pierce coming to mind as examples.
Others such as Allen Iverson were unwilling to do so and were forced to retire early. Carmelo Anthony is the rare example of someone who was unwilling to adjust at first and found himself out of the league before returning and accepting where his career was at, putting together a couple of solid seasons as a role player.
So how does Westbrook want his career to end? And what kind of contract will he be looking for next summer?
Those are the questions he needs to ask himself and address immediately because things aren’t exactly off to the best start with this whole hamstring debacle. Westbrook’s hamstring was conveniently healed by Opening Night when he was back in the starting lineup, by the way.