Lakers' Rob Pelinka Discusses Russell Westbrook's Future, Frank Vogel Firing, More

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVApril 11, 2022

Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka watch his team warm up before an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

It's one thing to miss out on a title with a playoff loss during a championship-or-bust season. It's another to go 33-49 and finish as one of the league's 10 teams that didn't even qualify for the play-in tournament.

That is exactly what happened to the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers, and general manager Rob Pelinka held a press conference Monday to look back at what went wrong and look ahead to an important offseason.

The press conference came after the Lakers announced they parted ways with head coach Frank Vogel, and Pelinka said the team "felt like it was time for a change in our leadership voice" even though Los Angeles won the 2020 championship under the coach's leadership.

Pelinka also called the move "an inflection point where [Vogel] goes from being a part of Lakers leadership to being a part of [their] legacy" while noting he wants to hire a new coach before June's NBA draft.

The Lakers may already be lining up potential replacements, as Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse and Michigan coach Juwan Howard are possible candidates.

That Vogel was let go Monday came as no surprise after ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the team planned on doing just that following Sunday's win over the Denver Nuggets.

Pelinka was asked about the possibility Vogel learned he was going to be fired on Twitter and said, "He factually heard about our decision in an in-person meeting this morning."

With Vogel gone, attention may now turn to Russell Westbrook. After all, trading for the future Hall of Famer hardly worked out as expected considering he shot 29.8 percent from three-point range and finished with a career-worst player efficiency rating of 15.0, per Basketball Reference.

Westbrook has a player option for next season, and Pelinka said, "Russ is a Hall of Fame player that gave everything he could to this organization this year. ... In terms of Russell Westbrook and his future, part of that is in his control."

Any examination of the Lakers' failures this season will likely start with the Westbrook trade, and ESPN's Ramona Shelburne (h/t RealGM) recently reported "enthusiasm" for him from LeBron James and Anthony Davis was a primary reason the Purple and Gold pursued him instead of DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield this past offseason.

Yet Pelinka notably said Monday that he will take "ultimate accountability" for building the team since "the roster decisions ultimately rest on my shoulders."

How much longer that team could feature James is another question at this point since the 37-year-old is under contract through just the 2022-23 campaign and coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him play 56 games after playing 45 in 2020-21.

"Myself and [agent] Rich [Paul] can't even begin to talk to [GM] Rob [Pelinka] and the front office because of the collective bargaining agreement," James said during his own press conference Monday. "When we get to that point, we'll see."

Pelinka echoed those points about the CBA but said "every indication that we've received" is that James prefers Los Angeles to be his "long-term home."

Whether James can win his fifth career ring with the Lakers as his home may depend on what moves Pelinka can make this offseason.