The Lakers’ trade for Russell Westbrook this past offseason increasingly looks like one of the worst moves the franchise has ever made in its storied history. The relationship between the 2017 NBA MVP and his current team seems to be deteriorating by the day, which is most clearly seen in the shots that Westbrook and Frank Vogel have taken at each other in some postgame press conferences over the past few weeks.
It appears that the Lakers at least tried to trade Westbrook before the deadline despite his $44 million per year supermax contract that severely limits Rob Pelinka’s options of doing so. A potential deal between the Lakers and Rockets that would have sent John Wall to L.A. in return reached a stalemate when the Lakers would not include their 2027 first-round pick.
So Westbrook remains a Laker for now, but not for lack of trying. Including from some members of the coaching staff, who went to Pelinka and pressured him to find a trade that would get rid of the Southern California native, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic:
For starters, sources said that despite some pressure from members of the coaching staff, the Lakers never gained traction on talks about a Russell Westbrook trade, leaving top basketball executive Rob Pelinka with room to operate only around the margins of the trade market.
That nugget is both shocking on its face and kind of unsurprising given the recent obvious toxicity between Westbrook and the Lakers’ coaches. It’s also not hard to guess which coach may have felt that way:
Frank Vogel, asked directly by @billoram if there's a scenario in which Russell Westbrook isn't on the team after tomorrow: "If there's way to improve our team, we'll improve our team. I've got nothing else to say about the trade deadline."— Sean Highkin (@highkin) February 10, 2022
It’s also not even the first report over the past 24 hours that some within the organization want Russ gone.
But it is just the latest in an increasing pile of evidence that the trust between Westbrook and the coaching staff may be irrevocably broken. Back in January, Vogel — with the backing of the Lakers’ front office — benched Westbrook down the stretch of a bad loss to the struggling Indiana Pacers, then broke from his usual low-key demeanor afterward and told reporters that he pulled Westbrook because he wanted to play “guys that were going to win the game.”
Westbrook later said his communication with the Vogel was “fine” at the time and that he was more disappointed by the loss than by his benching, but a report also emerged soon after that Westbrook was getting defensive when called out in film sessions despite clearly being a liability on the court during his extreme slump in January. That was also around the time trade rumors surrounding Westbrook and Wall started to pick up.
Things then reached a boiling point after the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Bucks on Tuesday. Westbrook had another horrendous outing, was benched in the fourth quarter again for the second straight game and only played 26 minutes throughout.
“Russ has accomplished a lot in this league... but my job is to win games and when you get in those situations you have a script of who you believe is going to be in there, and the game will tell you otherwise if a change is needed,” Vogel said on Wednesday. “So we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the Lakers a win. And sometimes he’s going to be in there for that and sometimes he’s not.”
The real fireworks began courtesy of Westbrook himself two nights earlier. Among other things, Westbrook said he had no grasp of when he would be coming into and out of games, implied that he wasn’t being given a fair shot to help his team win, and said he should not have to hit a benchmark to earn himself more minutes because of his past accomplishments in the NBA.
That was the last we have heard from Russ, who missed Wednesday’s loss at Portland due to back tightness. But after the deadline on Thursday, Pelinka put the onus on Westbrook to adjust (via Kyle Goon of The O.C. Register):
“As everybody knows, Russ is a big-hearted individual: He wants to win,” he said. “And he knows we, with players as impactful and influential on the court as Anthony and LeBron are, it’s going to require sacrifices in his game and how he plays.”
Pelinka declined to divulge if the Lakers had explored trading Westbrook, who is averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists while shooting 43.5% from the field.
Still, not matter what Pelinka did — or didn’t — say, it’s pretty clear there was a desire to move on from this disastrous marriage of rapidly declining former star and aging team that once had its sights set on another championship run. But now the trade deadline is over, and here we still are. If this relationship is going to continue, some things clearly need to be worked out behind the scenes, because right now this is a mess on par with any other recent NBA melodrama.
Which, as any longtime observers of this franchise know, is saying a lot.
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