The Los Angeles Lakers‘ continued struggles have jeopardized head coach Frank Vogel’s job status. Vogel is navigating the ship with complete confidence that he can finally steer the Lakers in the right direction. However, his latest act of desperation just threw star point guard Russell Westbrook under the bus.
Lakers fall to frustrating home loss against the Pacers
After an impressive win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Lakers followed it with a disappointing performance against the Indiana Pacers.
Los Angeles held control of the contest through the first half behind LeBron James’ 18 points. However, they faltered in the fourth quarter as Indiana outscored them 35-24. Pacers guard Caris LeVert scored a franchise-record 22 out of his 30 points in the final period.
The Lakers had no response defensively as the Pacers started the quarter with a 14-2 run led by LeVert. He capped off his performance with three consecutive made shots in the final two minutes of regulation to seal the deal. Beyond Los Angeles suffering a loss to a short-handed team that had lost 17 of their previous 20 road games, the attention centered on Westbrook’s role in the fourth quarter.
The nine-time All-Star was notably left off the floor for the final three minutes and 52 seconds as head coach Frank Vogel chose to play Malik Monk instead. The decision to bench Westbrook demonstrated much more than a single-game move and more about his status with the franchise.
Russell Westbrook thrown under the bus in Frank Vogel’s potentially final desperate act to keep his Lakers job
The Lakers’ loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night pushed them below the .500 mark again. However, the finish to the game outlined a more significant issue.
Westbrook’s benching in the final four minutes laid out the team’s honest feelings concerning his reliability in late-game situations. After the contest, Frank Vogel voiced that he played who he believed gave the team the best chance to win.
“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel said via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
The situation has only become dicier as McMenamin reported that Lakers’ management gave him the green light to essentially do what he felt was best for the team. Over the past week and a half, the front office told the coaching staff they could do what they saw fit with Westbrook.
It led Vogel to pull the former league MVP from the final three minutes and 52 seconds of regulation of Wednesday’s game. When Westbrook was pulled in favor of Monk, he was shooting 5-of-17 from the field while the Lakers trailed 101-94.
Vogel’s job status adds another wrinkle to the equation as recent reports suggest he’s coaching for his job as the Lakers are nearly floundering out of the playoff picture. It further underlines his honest assessment that Westbrook is unplayable in critical late-game situations.
Although team owner Jeanie Buss voiced last month that Vogel’s job status can’t be truly assessed without a healthy roster, it’s hard to ignore that the team’s prized offseason addition clearly isn’t a part of the solution.
The Lakers are stuck with Russell Westbrook
As much as the Lakers are putting the writing on the wall, Russell Westbrook has become unmovable.
It isn’t questioning his talent or status as one of the game’s most dynamic players; he’s simply not a fit for the Lakers. He’s struggled to adjust to playing a reduced role in Los Angeles, while his shooting woes and late-game decisions have hurt the team’s performance.
Although the Lakers would prefer to trade him, his contract remains the biggest hurdle. He’s making $44.2 million this season and holds a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 campaign. No team has expressed any significant interest in a trade, which likely won’t change due to his ongoing on-court struggles.
All that points to Los Angeles having to stick it out with Westbrook for the rest of the season. There may simply be no resolution until next offseason.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.