Veteran Analyst Rips Lakers’ Frank Vogel for ‘Humiliating’ Move

Russell Westbrook, Lakers

Getty Russell Westbrook, Lakers

Veteran Washington Post columnist and ESPN talker Tony Kornheiser has covered the NBA for decades now. And when he looks at what happened with the Lakers this week, especially with the dynamics between coach Frank Vogel and star guard Russell Westbrook, he is taking a contrarian stance.

Most think Vogel was absolutely justified in benching Westbrook for the final 3:52 of the team’s loss to Indiana on Wednesday. Westbrook was 5-for-17 shooting, after all, and the Lakers’ backcourt was having no luck containing Pacers guard Caris LeVert, who lit up L.A. with 20 fourth-quarter points.

As Vogel bluntly explained: “Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.” The implication being that Westbrook was not among the guys who were going to win the game.

But for Kornheiser. This amounted to a slap in the face to a proud veteran whose bust will one day reside in Springfield, Mass.

“You can’t bring Russell Westbrook to your team and then bench him in crunch time,” Kornheiser said in an exchange with PTI co-host Michael Wilbon. “You can’t do that. He has played in the league for 14 years, he is going to the Hall of Fame. Everybody knows his strengths are his effort, and everybody knows he’s not a good shooter. He’s a great scorer, he’s not a good shooter. You can’t humiliate him and say that he’s not as valuable because he didn’t play defense as (well) as Malik Monk.”

Westbrook Has Been a Disappointment for Lakers

To be sure, Monk is hardly Gary Payton on the defensive end. Westbrook has been lampooned frequently this season for being utterly out of place on the defensive end, something that is not new for him as a player but a trait that has been magnified by the struggles of the Lakers on both ends of the floor this season.

It was not supposed to be this way for Westbrook and the Lakers. Sure, there were many naysayers when Los Angeles traded for Westbrook in August, sending away Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell for the high-priced star guard. But few could have imagined the Lakers floundering at 22-23, eighth in the West playoff race.

That reality has put Vogel on the brink of losing his job, as well as brought focus to a front office headed by Rob Pelinka, one that has had an awful track record over the past two seasons after the Lakers won the 2020 NBA championship.

‘You Have to Trade Him Today’

Kornheiser said the Lakers have no choice but to get rid of either Vogel or Westbrook. With a contract worth $44 million this year and an option for $47 million next year, though, that is nearly impossible.

Westbrook is averaging 18.5 points, his fewest since 2010, and is shooting 43.3% from the field and 30.4% from the 3-point line. Not exactly $90 million worth of stats.

Still, Kornheiser continued: “You have to trade him today. You have to buy him out or do something. Because if you’re the coach of that team and Russell Westbrook is not on the floor in crunch time, you either can’t be the coach or you can’t have Russell Westbrook. I hold Pelinka responsible, I hold Vogel responsible, I hold LeBron James responsible. Now we’re going to see what LeBron James the GM does with Russell Westbrook.”

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