Lakers' Frank Vogel Explains Benching Russell Westbrook for End of Loss to Pacers

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 20, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Indiana Pacers on January 19, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Russell Westbrook's tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers reached a new nadir Wednesday night, with coach Frank Vogel benching the 2017 league MVP for the final three minutes, 52 seconds of a 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Spectrum SportsNet @SpectrumSN

“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.” Frank Vogel on his decision to sub out Russell Westbrook for the final four minutes of the game. <a href="https://t.co/M1PgbMNF0F">pic.twitter.com/M1PgbMNF0F</a>

ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported Vogel, who has faced rumors about his job status, was given the green light to "coach Westbrook as" he and his staff see fit. Westbrook's performance has been an increasing source of frustration, both among fans and seemingly with the coaching staff, who have struggled to figure out where he fits in the offense.

"You got to do what you got to do," a source told McMenamin of the message from management to the staff.

Westbrook is averaging 13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the month of January, shooting a ghastly 32 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. The Lakers have increasingly taken away Westbrook's ball-handling responsibilities, likely in an effort to curb his propensity for turnovers.

While the turnover issues have been lessened by taking Westbrook off the ball, it's also bludgeoned his impact to the point he's clearly a net negative when on the floor. The Lakers are outscoring teams by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the bench and have been outscored by 2.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.

"It's frustrating. I can tell you that," Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters. "It's frustrating as a player who's trying to make it right, trying to do things right. This is new for him. This is a new situation. This is a new environment. We got to help him through it. I mean, that's the only thing we can do, is make sure his mental is right. That's the only thing I care about. I don't care about any basketball stuff when it comes to Russ.

"As long as his mental is right, then I'm good."

Westbrook left the arena without speaking to media, and it's becoming increasingly obvious this Lakers team—from Vogel to Westbrook to the front office—is facing a crossroads. The decision to add Westbrook was controversial during the offseason and has proved to be a bust, and the Lakers have no real recourse to make a move with Russ carrying a $44.2 million cap hold this season and a $47.1 million hold next year with his player option.