Lakers head coach Frank Vogel admitted earlier this week that he and his coaching staff had “discussed” bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench, but said at practice on Friday that they aren’t at the point where they’re going to do so just yet.
However, according to the latest report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Vogel may be one of the last remaining members of the organization who feels that way. Before the Lakers took on the Warriors on ABC, Woj had the following to say on the “NBA Countdown” pregame show:
“There’s been an increasing push within the Los Angeles Lakers, I’m told, both inside and outside the locker room, to demote nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook from the starting lineup. But so far head coach Frank Vogel has resisted that idea. Vogel still maintains that he believes there is an opportunity for Westbrook to make the kind of late-season charge with the Lakers that he did a year ago in Washington.
“But frustrations have mounted in this Laker organization, and I’m told in the last week there has been some tense moments between Vogel and Westbrook, including yesterday in a team film session. Westbrook has been trying to navigate all season long how to operate in a very different role away from the ball, away from playmaking. Now, Frank Vogel said yesterday he’s had this conversation within this staff, within the organization, about bringing Westbrook off the bench. He’s not there yet.”
Shortly afterward, Woj posted his full story, featuring mostly the same details:
ESPN Sources: There’s an increasing push among many in the Lakers organization to demote nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook from the starting lineup, but so far coach Frank Vogel has resisted bringing him off the bench: https://t.co/2CyO729oZW— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 6, 2022
The coaching staff and Westbrook have had differing visions on how best to utilize him and that has partly accounted for some tense moments between Vogel and Westbrook in the past several days -- including during a team film session Friday, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 6, 2022
It’s unclear what specifically led to Friday’s film session clash, but there have been multiple reports already this season that Russell Westbrook has been resistant to constructive criticism and feedback from both coaches and teammates, and so it’s not really surprising that he clashed with Vogel again. What is a bit more eyebrow-raising, though, is the idea that Vogel is the last remaining Westbrook defender.
Remember, it was just about a month ago when Vogel nearly burned the internet down by benching Westbrook down the stretch of games multiple times. Now they’re still at odds, but Vogel is also refusing to bench him? Maybe there is a degree of pragmatism to his choice, whether he’s hoping Westbrook can turn it around in the last part of the year like he has in the past, or maybe he just doesn’t want to lose the former All-Star’s ear entirely. But it also may just be that Vogel doesn’t see what the tangible, basketball arguments would be for benching Westbrook.
The only real good reasons to bench Russ would be giving Horton-Tucker the ball more to get him comfortable and raise his trade value, or making it easier to play Westbrook fewer minutes. But the former wouldn’t really benefit Vogel since he clearly won’t be back next year anyway, and the latter isn’t a guarantee to make the Lakers better considering how poor and flawed this roster is.
I’m not defending Vogel or Westbrook. As our own Cooper Halpern wrote about this morning, this version of Westbrook on this contract is as actively damaging and inefficient as any player in the league, and not a winning basketball player. But he still, at least in theory, has the highest upside of many of the team’s options. It’s hard to blame Vogel for holding out some small degree of hope he can still figure things out, especially when there likely isn’t any move he can go to that will make a meaningful difference for this team at this point.
Plus, as I write this midway through the first quarter of the Warriors game, Westbrook just cut to the basket for an easy basket off a LeBron James pass. Hope truly springs eternal. And, given a total lack of evidence that any of this can work, blind hope based on past potential is all the Lakers really have left. Of course Vogel is trying to cling to it.