September 30, 2022

LAS VEGAS — Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows the team he has now could be very different when he coaches games that matter in the fall, but he still embraces his current group.

“We love everyone on our roster,” Ham told reporters at halftime in LA’s 104-84 Summer League loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday. “And until you’re not on our list, you’re ours and we’ll try to improve with the group we have. That’s just the main thing.

“I don’t know a player who came through this league in my 26 years who hasn’t had his name in a trade rumor once or twice. But it is what it is. It’s nature from the beast of our And so, again, the guys that we have on our roster that I’m so grateful for, that I’m proud of, and we want to maximize whatever they can do to help us achieve that ultimate goal.

If the Lakers attempt to revive it with the same core of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook who, in their first season together last year, contributed to one of the most disappointing campaigns in league history franchise, Ham’s vote of confidence can only help him with player relations down the line.

But that’s still a big if.

The Lakers summer league team may have been on the field to play against the Suns, but all eyes were on the Thomas & Mack Arena, where James and Westbrook couldn’t have been further apart l each other.

James sat on the south baseline flanked by his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, and his longtime friend and Lakers executive administrator, Randy Mims. Meanwhile, Westbrook positioned himself next to the Lakers bench on the opposite sideline.

Between the first and second quarters, Ham and Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka left their half-court seats to greet James. Pelinka and the LA star shared a quick chat, covering their mouths with their hands for discretion.

With the Lakers engaged in trade talks with the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers last week — with sources telling ESPN both scenarios involve sending Westbrook off — James and Westbrook’s positioning was remarkable.

Several other Lakers players in attendance — Talen Horton-Tucker, Wenyen Gabriel and Thomas Bryant — surrendered to James.

But James and Westbrook stayed in their respective corners, with Westbrook exiting at half-time from one tunnel and James leaving after the third quarter from another.

Ham, when asked if he had tried to build camaraderie between the Lakers’ marquee names in James, Westbrook and Davis since he was named head coach last month, said their schedules of summer had made things difficult.

“It’s a funny time of year,” Ham said. “AD has a newborn on the way. These guys have busy schedules. They’re busy guys. Russ is doing his fashion thing. LeBron has a million things going on. the guys have business outside of basketball But they do a good job of staying connected in regards to whenever I need them, whenever I need their thoughts to all three of them, they are there with me.

Westbrook and James may have been parked away on Friday, but they both had their impact on the action, especially with rookie guard Scotty Pippen Jr., who signed a two-way contract with LA last month.

Pippen led LA with 19 points but also had five turnovers, with the Phoenix defense targeting him as the Lakers’ main playmaker.

“He gave me some advice and I ended up using it,” Pippen said of the advice Westbrook offered on how to counter defensive pressure from the Suns.

James offered a different kind of assist, literally helping lift Pippen off the ground after he absorbed rim contact in the first half and crashed near James’ feet.

“I guess that was cool,” Pippen said, before adding with a laugh, “he kind of threw me a little too high.”