The Los Angeles Lakers will bring Russell Westbrook off the bench for their final preseason game, a move that might be a precursor to a longer look at the nine-time All-Star guard quarterbacking the second team.
"He totally understood," coach Darvin Ham told reporters when asked about Westbrook before Friday night's game against the Sacramento Kings. "He totally looked me in my eye and said, 'Yeah, Coach, whatever you need me to do.' You can't take that for granted, for a player of his stature to be willing to try something different, something that he's unaccustomed to. I mean, he started a bunch of games in this league and performed at the highest level in this league. Hell, even being a MVP.
"So for him to trust us and trust what we're trying to do and what we're trying to take some notes on -- to see if him being in that part of the rotation has any benefit to us as a whole -- again, my hat's off to him. I salute him, because a lot of guys would have had a lot of pushback, even if it's a preseason game. He totally was selfless in that moment.
"He'll be the first sub and he'll play at a high level, I'm sure."
The Lakers want to give Westbrook a chance to play both faster and freer with the ball in his hands leading the second unit, something perhaps mirroring the autonomy that Rajon Rondo had during the 2019-20 season.
Westbrook, who is on a $47 million expiring contract, has been the subject of numerous trade discussions throughout the offseason, and that is expected to continue through the start of the regular season and toward the February trade deadline. Westbrook has started 1,004 of his 1,021 career NBA games -- coming off the bench only in his first 17 games as a rookie in 2008.
This will be the Lakers' sixth different lineup in six preseason games, something Ham said Thursday would be by design.
"It's different combinations of seeing different guys play together," Ham said. "You have to prepare yourself. You got to get out in front of the fact that there's going to be injuries. We don't want them to happen. We don't want them to happen to any of our guys, let alone our main guys. You just have to prepare yourself and be at the forefront of that by plugging in different lineups, different players and different positions so that when that day comes, you feel a little bit more prepared."
The Lakers will be without Anthony Davis for the preseason finale. Davis did not make the trip to Sacramento, with Los Angeles holding him out for precautionary reasons as he continues to manage lower back tightness, according to the team. Davis is expected to be in the lineup Tuesday for the regular-season opener against the Golden State Warriors.
Point guard Dennis Schroder also will not play against the Kings because of a thumb injury that will sideline him for the start of the season, sources told ESPN.