For all of the battles the Lakers had during the 2021-22 season, it’ll be the internal one between Russell Westbrook and then-head coach Frank Vogel that will be a lasting memory. The Lakers season was doomed long before Vogel and Westbrook’s relationship deteriorated to the point of no return midway through the year, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging.
Much of the responsibility for things crumbling apart falls at the feet of Westbrook. As the season drifts further into the past, it’s becoming increasingly clearer that Westbrook was torpedoing things at a rapid rate behind the scenes.
No one with the team will admit as much publicly and certainly not Westbrook, who can not count self-awareness among his strengths around a basketball court. Interestingly, rookie Austin Reaves discussed the relationship between coach and point guard in a recent appearance on Sirius XM NBA Radio with Evan Cohen and Amin Elhassan and defended the pair.
“They kept their relationship between and never let it seep into the locker room and when we’re on the court. They always, in my opinion, were communicating well...on things that we could do to be more successful. Their relationship is their relationship. I can’t speak to, really, more about that. It is what it is. From my perspective, it wasn’t bad and, like I said, they always had good communication or on the court and in sessions where they both were just trying to put their minds together to figure out what we could do as a team to be successful.”
First and foremost, it’s a bit annoying that Reaves is the one that keeps having to field questions about this team that are related to how disappointing of a season it was. When he had a historic triple-double in a comeback victory in the regular season finale, his reward was sitting alongside Malik Monk and answering inquiries about the reports of Vogel being fired.
That aside, It’s an interesting quote to take at face value. Realistically, even if he’s a rookie, Reaves knows better than to ever throw a teammate or coach under the bus. There have been so many stories about Westbrook pushing back against the coaches that it’s hard to believe it didn’t happen at this point, at least in some capacity.
But it’s time for the actual people responsible for this — Westbrook and general manager Rob Pelinka specifically — to start answering for their miscues and not having the rookies and actual bright spots from the season doing so.