Lakers Rumors: Frank Vogel Had 'Green Light' to Bench Russell Westbrook vs. Pacers

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 20, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 04: Russell Westbrook #0 and head coach Frank Vogel watch play during the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on November 04, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel reportedly received "assurances" from team management he wouldn't face backlash if he benched point guard Russell Westbrook.

ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported Lakers brass told Vogel to coach Westbrook as he saw fit, with a general message of "you got to do what you got to do," which set the stage for the nine-time All-Star to spend the last four minutes of Wednesday's 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on the sideline.

"Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game," Vogel said after the game about his decision to keep Westbrook out of the lineup in crunch time.

The 33-year-old UCLA product continued to struggle with his shooting stroke against the Pacers, making just five of his 17 shots from the field, but it was a play at the defensive end that sparked the decision to bench him.

Indiana guard Caris LeVert breezed past Westbrook for a layup midway through the fourth quarter after the Lakers star failed to follow the scouting report of defending the right-hand drive, which represented the "final straw" for the coaching staff, per McMenamin.

Westbrook's acquisition from the Washington Wizards in a blockbuster August trade highlighted an offseason where L.A. completely revamped the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers (22-23) have hovered around .500 for most of the campaign, however, and the 2016-17 NBA MVP hasn't provided the expected boost to the lineup.

Westbrook has averaged 18.5 points, his lowest mark since 2009-10 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with 8.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists across 45 games. He's shooting just 43.3 percent from the field, including 30.4 percent on threes.

His dip in offensive production combined with absences by James and Davis throughout the season because of injury have left the Lakers with a lot of questions to answer if they're going to emerge as a legitimate championship contender.

In turn, Vogel has landed on the hot seat. Bill Oram and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Tuesday the Lakers coach was "at risk of being fired soon" if the team didn't show sustained progress.

Vogel downplayed the outside speculation, saying he's become good at blocking the outside noise throughout his coaching career:

"I don't feel like I'm under siege. It's not hard to do my job. I'm very focused on the task at hand. I've always been that way. It's really not up to me whether it's fair or not. It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers' coach. We have high expectations. This fanbase really cares. It's a big market. I wouldn't want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best, and to command excellence of our group. That's what we command of ourselves."

Yet the benching of Westbrook shows the coaching staff is feeling at least some pressure to get the team trending in the right direction, even if it means frustrating one of the roster's core players.

The Lakers kick off a six-game road trip Friday night against the Orlando Magic, and Westbrook's role in that contest will surely be a key storyline.