Russell Westbrook was benched late during a 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel was blunt when asked why he decided to sit down the former MVP.
“Playing the guys I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel said after the loss, which dropped the Lakers to 22-23.
Vogel got the green light to bench Westbrook if he saw fit, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Here’s what the Lakers insider had to say on the situation:
Over the past week and a half, Lakers management has told the coaching staff to coach Westbrook as they see fit, even if that means pulling him from a game, as Vogel did for the final 3 minutes, 52 seconds of the fourth quarter against Indiana, sources told ESPN.
Westbrook finished the game with 14 points, three assists and two rebounds in the game, finishing minus-18 in 27 minutes. Westbrook shot just 29 percent from the floor — going 5 of 17 — so Vogel decided to roll with a different look for the final four minutes. Westbrook is shooting just 37.8 percent over his last 10 games from the field.
Westbrook — who is getting paid more than $44 million this season — left the arena without speaking to the media, although his teammates chimed in with some insight on his general vibe following the benching.
“Have you followed Russ throughout his career?” James told a reporter when asked if Westbrook was bothered by the benching. “Would you think that would bother Russ not being in that game?”
Carmelo Anthony on Westbrook: ‘I’ve Been There’
People can say what they want about the ultimate result, but there’s no question that Westbrook hustles and leaves it all on the floor — for better or for worse. In short, there’s no chance he was alright with not being in a game that was still competitive down the stretch.
Carmelo Anthony has been in a similar spot during his career and offered support for Westbrook.
“We gotta help him figure it out,” Anthony said. “It’s frustrating. I can tell you that,” he continued. “It’s frustrating as a player who’s trying to make it right, trying to do things right. This is new for him. This is a new situation. This is a new environment. We got to help him through it. I mean, that’s the only thing we can do, is make sure his mental is right. That’s the only thing I care about. I don’t care about any basketball stuff when it comes to Russ. … As long as his mental is right, then I’m good.”
Frank Vogel Not Worried About Job Security
Vogel being so blunt with the handling of the Westbrook situation had many believing that the loss would be his final game as the Lakers head coach. Heading into the matchup with the Pacers there was a report from The Athletic’s Bill Oram and Sam Amick saying that Vogel was being judged on a game-to-game basis.
Vogel understands that being the coach of the Lakers is a high-profile position and he isn’t getting too wrapped up in the speculation.
“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said before the game. “It’s not hard to do my job. I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way. It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not. It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers’ coach. We have high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market. I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best, and to demand excellence of our group. That’s what we demand of ourselves.”
Lakers players — including LeBron — came to the defense of the coaching staff following the loss.
“The coaching staff has been great,” James said. “They put us in position to succeed and it’s up to us to go out and handle the business. So, there’s always things we all can do better.”
The Lakers now embark on a six-game road trip which could be a major turning point in the team’s season.