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Lakers coach Darvin Ham deftly handles controversial quotes from his stars

LOS ANGELES — Being a head coach sometimes means leading. On the Lakers, sometimes it also means mopping up after your stars.

Head coach Darvin Ham got a taste of the dirty work Thursday night before the team’s home opener, responding to eyebrow-raising postgame comments made by Russell Westbrook and LeBron James two nights earlier.

Ham had only just reinstalled Westbrook, 33, in the starting lineup for the season opener against Golden State on Tuesday night. After the loss, Westbrook said coming off the bench in the preseason finale late last week in Sacramento “absolutely” could have contributed to his hamstring strain – added Westbrook: “Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose.”

Asked how he interpreted the comments, Ham first solemnly said neither he nor the organization would never put a player in a position to get hurt, then said he had a “brief discussion” with Westbrook, who started again against the Clippers.

“We moved on, we got an understanding,” he said. “And again, as the coach of this team, we’re gonna do what’s best for our team to be as successful as it can be. And I’ll just leave it at that.”

The last time Westbrook came off the bench in a regular-season game was during his 2008-09 rookie season, and Ham said he understood that as a long-time veteran and a nine-time All-Star, Westbrook wants to start.

“On the other hand, you have to be prepared to do whatever your team needs you to do,” he added. “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 the overall good of the team if that course of action is going to lead to success.”

Ham also addressed some critical comments from James about the construction of the roster. After the team shot 10 for 40 from 3-point range against the Warriors, James said (among several comments), “to be completely honest, we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting.”

Citing a Second Spectrum statistic called “QSQ,” Ham said the Lakers had the best shot quality of all four teams who played Tuesday night. Ham said he didn’t take offense to James’ comments, but is working to positively reinforce his players so they don’t balk when there’s an open look in front of them.

“The worst thing you can do is be wide open and hesitate or not take the shot,” he said. “It throws off the entire rhythm of what you’re trying to do offensively. And it seeps in a little bit of a disappointment going back toward the other end to get a stop. So I want our guys to be confident. I want them to know that I trust them to step up and shoot.”

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Far from taking offense, Kendrick Nunn – who shot 38% from behind the arc during his last healthy season – agreed with James’ assessment: “It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.” Nunn said the Lakers can compensate by following their offense.

“It’s not how it’s built, not like a laser team, but we get great looks – guys gotta step up and knock ’em down,” Nunn said. “It’s staying with the offense, not getting stagnant, use our pace into things. Screening. Rolling. And just not getting stagnant.”

Ham has spent 26 years in the NBA, between playing and coaching, and he’s seen the fluctuations of chemistry over that time. When asked if he was bothered to have to answer for Westbrook and James on the dais, Ham responded that he’s not “sensitive” and doesn’t take spicy sound bites personally.

“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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