The Los Angeles Lakers’ first year with Russell Westbrook has unfortunately gone as many predicted. He’s still figuring out his place with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He’s trying to determine what’s the best version of himself for the team. Time continues to tick, and so does the level of patience both internally and externally.
Coach Frank Vogel took action recently and benched Russ late in a loss last week against the Indiana Pacers. It was a decision that was described as playing the players that gave the Lakers the best odds of winning, per Frank Vogel. The benching seemed pretty random. But reports also stated that this was a decision that’s long been pondered. ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne reported on the Lakers and how they’ve approached Westbrook:
For weeks, the staff had considered benching Westbrook at a moment like this. Team sources said there was always concern as to how he’d react to such a move. Would he get defensive, as he often had when he felt like he was being singled out in film sessions? Would it erode the confidence that is so important to his game?
When Vogel finally did it, it was as understandable as it was stunning.
“Frank ripped the Band-Aid off,” one team source said.
The Lakers rank 18th in defensive rating at 109.7 per NBA.com. It’s a far cry from the days of their league-leading efforts over the last two years. It also could mean that Russ isn’t the only one receiving flack for his performance.
As a unit, they won’t be able to perform at elite levels anymore. Especially with their stars in and out of the lineup. Anthony Davis is just now returning from injury, and they’ve certainly looked to have better flow and resistance than past performances. One game isn’t enough evidence, but sufficient enough to imagine the possibilities of some improvement.
As for Russell Westbrook, he handled himself well minus skipping his media availability after the benching. The front office made sure to stay in contact with him after the game, as also reported by Shelbourne:
After Westbrook was benched, Pelinka knew the situation was at a critical juncture, so he met with Westbrook for nearly two hours when the team landed in Orlando on Thursday, according to team sources.
Vogel too has met individually with Westbrook several times throughout the season to try to find ways to help him feel more comfortable and succeed on the court, according to team sources.
The meetings with Russell Westbrook are essential to keep him engaged. Anyone dealing with a level of scrutiny as a professional needs balance. While it’s the Lakers’ job to hold him accountable, it’s also their job to put him in the best position and motivated.
There’s still a lot of season left. They’ve invested enough in Westbrook to where they’ll need all that he has to offer. He has to believe this, or it won’t be the last time they have a sit-down.