With his job possibly on the line, Frank Vogel did something that Los Angeles Lakers fans have been clamoring for all season: he benched Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter.

With 3:52 left to go and the Lakers down 101-94 to the lottery-bound Indiana Pacers at home, Vogel subbed out the 2017 MVP for Malik Monk. Westbrook went straight to the tunnel, where he stood for a few minutes before rejoining his teammates on the bench. The Lakers (22-23) were unable to close the gap and lost by seven.

It’s hard to overstate the boldness of this move by Vogel. Even when the sailing is smooth, accomplished stars on massive contracts (earning $44 million in 2021-22, Russ is the team’s highest-paid player) always play crunch-time, full-stop. In this case, that player is also the prized and polarizing acquisition of the front office who is evaluating Vogel on a game-to-game basis.

However, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Lakers management had recently given Vogel the OK to bench Westbrook late in games. McMenamin added that the coaching staff has debated taking out Russ in crunch-time for weeks. Still, it takes cojones to actually do it. There will be ripple effects.

“Playing the guys I thought we’re gonna win the game,” Vogel bluntly explained.


Russ was hot from downtown early on but was overall unproductive. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting, adding three assists and two rebounds. He blew key defensive coverages in the fourth quarter. Postgame, Vogel specifically called out the subpar effort on the glass from the Lakers’ guards.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — who both credited the coaching staff in general, shouldered blame on the behalf of the players, and subtweeted Vogel’s defensive game-plan in their postgame remarks— provided different answers to questions on Westbrook’s benching.

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“I was in the game … so it’s kind of hard to pay attention to what’s on the sideline,” Melo said. “I think I know what he’s dealing with, what he’s going through. I’ve been there before. I don’t think it was anything personal from coach … it’s just something that he’s not used to. You would think somebody like that would be on the court. … We gotta help him figure it out. It’s frustration, I can tell you that … This is new for him. We gotta help him through it. That’s the only thing we can do: make sure his mental is right. That’s the only thing I care about.”

LeBron was a bit spicier, engaging in a back-and-forth with a reporter when asked if Russ was bothered by the move. Here was the exchange:

“Have you followed Russ throughout his career?” LeBron asked.

“Probably not as closely as you have.”

“OK. Have you followed him throughout this season?”


“Now would you think that would bother Russ, not being in the late game?”

“I would imagine it would.”


LeBron then said he was going to the movies with his wife and ended the media session.

In a way, it was the second straight game Vogel has benched the unpredictable point guard in a tight final period. In Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz — which may have temporarily saved Vogel’s job — the Lakers head coach kept Westbrook off the floor from the third quarter buzzer until 3:24 remained in regulation. (Westbrook iced the game with a coast-to-coast And-1 layup, though his decision to push the pace at that moment was questionable.)

We’ll have to wait to hear Russell Westbrook’s reaction to the benching. According to McMenamin, the nine-time All-Star left the court with 8.4 seconds remaining, quickly showered, and exited Crypto.com Arena without speaking to the media or his teammates about the situation.