Vouching for the addition of journeyman guard, former MVP and nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook, LeBron’s pitch for LA’s potential third star has gone astray and hit the organization in the face as Westbrook’s defunct value tempts head coach Frank Vogel to give him more minutes … on the bench.
Vogel finally pulled the trigger on Wednesday night against the Pacers by benching Westbrook in the final minutes — still losing to the East’s 13th seed, 111-104.
Hoops Wire and OutKick’s Sam Amico noted that Vogel had discussed Westbrook’s benching with higher-ups on the Lakers and received a vote of confidence to execute as needed.
“(I was) playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel announced to the post-game media on Wednesday.
With seconds left in the contest, Westbrook was spotted leaving the court ahead of his team and never appeared for interviews.
Additional reporting speculated that Westbrook’s omission in the final minutes was based on a blown defensive assignment against Pacers guard Caris LeVert. LeBron gave a special acknowledgment to LeVert during interviews.
Despite being partially responsible for the dilemma, LeBron has been critical of 33-year-old Westbrook’s play; evidenced by the two’s increasingly contentious relationship seen during games.
Westbrook scored 14 points against the Pacers, shooting 5-of-17 but shooting 1-11 from the field against Indiana.
After 45 games with the Lakers (22-23), Westbrook’s stock has dipped into trade fodder territory.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has explored options to ship the vet ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline and avoid giving Westbrook a $ 48 million player option in the offseason.