After spending 45 games watching the Los Angeles Lakers (22-23) cough, sputter, and wheeze on both ends of the court, coach Frank Vogel finally did something on Wednesday night to stop the continuous bleeding: He benched Russell Westbrook.
While Laker Nation is split on Vogul’s decision—which still failed to result in a win against the lowly Indiana Pacers—it’s abundantly clear that the Westbrook experiment has been a resounding failure, and that Vogel is acutely aware that his job is on the line.
We previously reported that Vogel’s tenure as head coach is in “serious jeopardy,” and now desperate to produce wins, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reports that the former Orlando Magic coach got the green light from management to bench Westbrook in need be. (When you shoot 28.7 percent from the floor in your last six games, it should be considered an act of mercy.)
Over the past week and a half, Lakers management has told the coaching staff to coach Westbrook as they 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.”
So on Wednesday night, when Vogel looked down at the stat sheet and saw that Westbrook was shooting 5-for-17 from the floor with the Lakers down seven points in the fourth quarter, Vogel mumbled something about wishing he had Smush Parker instead before ordering Westbrook to go play video games or miniature golf or something else.
Vogel also had the perfect answer when reporters asked him why he benched a guy who had at least one turnover in every single game he played for six straight years. (Miraculously, that streak was snapped earlier this month.)
“Playing the guys I thought were going to win the game,” he said.
That’s not the type of thing you expect to hear about a nine-time All-Star who once averaged a triple-double for three consecutive seasons (with a little help). But dammit, where there’s a will—or a Russell Westbrook—there’s a way.
But I will say this: With a 37-year-old LeBron on borrowed time, Westbrook struggling to adjust to life as a Laker, Vogel’s job on the line, and Anthony Davis off somewhere hyperextending his elbow while brushing his teeth, something’s gotta give. And while Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka has inexplicably eluded blame for his role in assembling this catastrophic disaster, expect either Vogel or Westbrook (or both) to be removed from the equation very soon.