New Lakers head coach Darvin Ham has made it clear what he wants from his base guard. He envisions a fierce competitor who devotes much of his energy to defense, making some limited, secondary play around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but remaining a respectable threat even without the ball, working smartly and relentlessly on moving , cutting , screening, running in transition and generally making hay in the spaces that open up on their own as James and Davis do their thing. This is very logical as a description of the tasks of a certain role. Describing the duties of a role you’re planning to take with 34-year-old Russell Westbrook, it might as well have “wings” and include “shooting lasers from your eyeballs.”
Westbrook doesn’t seem inclined to accept this role, and the case appears to have played a part in Westbrook’s split from former agent Thad Foucher in July. Coaches far more fair and credible than Ham have tried over the years to coax Westbrook into changing habits and styles, and in situations where Westbrook hadn’t already felt mistreated, disrespected and scapegoated by his teammates and his organisation. Ham has given no public indication that he’s ready to give up his vision – after all, the question of how to use Westbrook was central to the Lakers’ interview process – but suffice it to say he has some work ahead of him if he does. still intends to convince Westbrook to give it a chance. Trading Westbrook without sandbags the next decade of Lakers basketball will be nearly impossible, but suddenly turning him into Gary Payton II seems just as unlikely. It’s an unfortunate situation.
But Ham can still get what he wants from the point guard position. On Thursday, the Lakers completed a trade with the Utah Jazz, finally shipping their only young player and only realistic human trading asset, 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker. Horton-Tucker has been a source of frustration for Lakers fans throughout his three NBA seasons, but he also has some intriguing skills for a man built to be an NFL outlinebacker. His role in James and Davis’ orbit was perhaps even less natural than Westbrook’s. Despite his dodgy game and unimpressive numbers, the Lakers have generally treated Horton-Tucker as a major asset and resisted trading him away. This week they finally packed him up with the unwanted Stanley Johnson and sent him off, not for a front-line starter or a sexy pack of design choices, but in exchange for 34-year-old Patrick Beverley.
It’s generally not great when your promising young rotation player gets you a shrimp-like companion on an expiring deal, but this isn’t a total disaster. Beverley has a lot of sense for this top-heavy Lakers team, and not just because his contract expiring means the Lakers will have $34 million in room after next season under the league’s expected salary cap. He has become a reliable shooter, he is a steady caretaker with the ball in his hands, and he is generally regarded as a solid and annoying defender, if not exactly a difference-making defender. He’s made a career out of devoting all his energy to defense and otherwise riding around in the fur of superstar teammates. He does a lot more yapping than this resume would normally support, but he’s a perfectly capable and respectable basketball player whose ego won’t suffer at all in the job Ham has outlined. If Westbrook won’t do it, whether it’s because he’s going elsewhere or because he just won’t stop taking insanely bad mid-range show jumpers, then Beverley absolutely can and will.
Also, hilariously, Westbrook hates Beverley’s guts. This enmity dates all the way back to 2013, when a reckless move by Beverley knocked Westbrook’s knee, knocking him out of the playoffs and costing him half the following season. They picked up the meat with more chippy play the following season, instigated in most cases by Beverley’s signature goonery. In 2019, Westbrook went out of his way to call Beverley an impostor, famously stating that Beverley is fooling fans and the media into thinking he is a good defender by running around and yelling a lot, a statement Beverley said. earlier this year said “damaged my career” by changing the way people from across the league looked at him. Beverley was take unprovoked potshots in Westbrook on Twitter as recently as February this year, and fired yet another not-crazy Tweet after Westbrook pooped his Minnesota Timberwolves after a game in March. These men are definitely not friends. If Westbrook wanted out of Los Angeles? before Thursday morning trading, imagine how excited he is to stay here now that he shares a locker room with the pesky plague who danced on his grave at the nadir of his brief time with the Lakers.
This could very well be Westbrook’s final round as a rotational player in the NBA. He will get $47 million this season, most likely for a Lakers team that would rather play against him than with him. How miserable can this get? That depends on how long it takes the Lakers to accept that Westbrook probably has to be Beverley’s backup. My God.