Russell Westbrook made his first public comments since being benched by the Los Angeles Lakers during the final minutes of the team’s loss to the Indiana Pacers on January 19. During an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Westbrook admitted to being “surprised” and “disappointed” by head coach Frank Vogel’s decision to keep him off the floor to close out the game.
“Surprised, yes. I was disappointed I didn’t go back in, but I’m more disappointed that we lost the damn game,” Westbrook remarked. “I want to be able to be on the floor to help my teammates and be able to help our team win in games like that — but that was a decision that was made.”
Westbrook clearly remains frustrated by the team’s lack of faith in him to close out the game but also admitted he has to do better. The star guard explained that Vogel’s goals for the Lakers “changes” as the team has been forced to use less-than-deal lineups as a result of both injuries and COVID.
“I think the communication of what [Vogel] wants and how he wants it kind of changes because guys have been in and out of the lineup,” Westbrook added. “Everybody is trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I try to put my head down and do the best that I can do for our team, and whatever is asked of me I try to do it to the best of my ability. That’s all I’ve been trying to do since I got here.”
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LeBron on Russ’ Frustration Level: ‘Have You Followed Russ Throughout His Career?’
After the game, Vogel offered little explanation for the change except to say that he was playing the players he felt could best help the Lakers win the game. Days later, Vogel credit Westbrook for his willingness to “do whatever’s necessary” in their attempt to win a title.
“Frank Vogel on Russell Westbrook: ‘He’s all in to do whatever’s necessary’ to help the Lakers win a championship,” Lakers Nation’s Ryan Ward tweeted on January 21.
LeBron James gave a revealing “non-answer” when asked about Westbrook’s feelings about being benched to close the game. James turned the same question back to the reporter during his January 20 press conference.
“Have you followed Russ throughout his career?” James retorted. “…Okay, have you followed Russ throughout this season? …Would you think that would bother Russ not being in the late game? There go your answer.”
Vogel Has Support to Bench Westbrook as He Sees Fit: Report
Westbrook’s comments conclude what has been a bizarre week in Los Angeles. The Athletic’s Bill Oram and Sam Amick reported the Lakers were closer to firing Vogel after the team’s 37-point loss to the Nuggets on January 15.
Shortly after the Lakers’ loss to the Pacers, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that Vogel had been given the green light to coach Westbrook however he saw fit, including leaving the point guard on the bench when necessary.
“Long before Russell Westbrook was benched down the stretch of Wednesday’s 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel was given assurances that the organization would support him in taking a hard line while coaching the star, sources told ESPN,” McMenamin detailed on January 20.
“Over the past week and a half, Lakers management has told the coaching staff to coach Westbrook as the coaches see fit, even if that means pulling him from a game… One source close to the situation described the message from management to the staff as, ‘You got to do what you got to do.'”
All this has made the NBA trade deadline on February 10 even more interesting for the Lakers.