Long before Russell Westbrook was benched down the stretch of Wednesday’s 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel was given assurances that the organization would support him in taking a hard line while coaching the star, sources told ESPN.
Over the past week and a half, Lakers management has told the coaching staff to coach Westbrook as the coaches see fit, even if that means pulling him from a game, as Vogel did for the final 3 minutes, 52 seconds of the fourth quarter against Indiana, sources told ESPN.
One source close to the situation described the message from management to the staff as, “You got to do what you got to do.”
Westbrook was 5-for-17 from the field when Vogel put in Malik Monk for him with L.A. trailing 101-94.
Apart from his offensive struggles, Westbrook failed to execute on the defensive end. The final straw, pushing the staff to honor their instinct to bench him, was when Caris LeVert blew by Westbrook on defense for a layup with 7 minutes, 13 seconds remaining.
The coaching staff had repeatedly emphasized the scouting report to take away LeVert’s right hand, and Westbrook, guarding LeVert at the top of the key one-on-one, didn’t angle himself properly to thwart the drive and allowed LeVert easy access to the paint en route to the hoop.
Vogel: Not feeling ‘under siege’ amid job chatter
NBA Power Rankings: Can Ja Morant and the Grizzlies keep rising?
Asked what was behind his decision to bench Westbrook, the normally measured Vogel responded with a matter-of-fact edge.
“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” he said.
Vogel’s job has been in jeopardy since L.A. was blown out by 37 points at the Denver Nuggets over the weekend, according to various reports.
The coaching staff had been debating whether to pull Westbrook from late-game situations for weeks, sources said, but always refrained because of worries about the lasting impact on Westbrook’s psyche.
Indeed, even LeBron James danced around the subject of Westbrook’s benching, perhaps not wanting to draw further attention to the indignity for the one-time league MVP.
“Would you think that would bother Russ not being in a late game?” he said, answering a reporter’s question with a question, rather than giving a straight answer.
James was left to speak on Westbrook because the 14-year veteran — who exited the court with 8.4 seconds remaining on the clock — departed from the arena without speaking to reporters.
Westbrook also had already vacated the locker room by the time his teammates were finished showering, sources said, forgoing any postgame discussion with the team.
“I don’t think it’s nothing personal,” said Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, who recently said that he can relate to the role adjustment Westbrook is going through this season, having done it himself a few years back. “It’s just something that he’s not used to. You would think somebody like that would be on the court. But with the flow of the game, there’s been times I haven’t been in the game or other guys haven’t been in the game. So I don’t think it’s anything personal.”
Not personal, but certainly critical. The Lakers, about to embark on a six-game road trip and sitting at No. 8 in the Western Conference at 22-23, can ill afford to lose any more time prioritizing Westbrook’s comfort over the team’s chance at success.
“It’s just something that Russ has got to … ” Anthony said before correcting himself midsentence, “We gotta help him figure it out.”
“It’s frustrating. I can tell you that,” he continued. “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.”
Got a story or tip for us? Email Sports Gossip editors at email@example.com
Want More From Sports Gossip?
For all the latest breaking Sports Gossip, be sure to follow SportsGossip.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.