It’s no secret that it hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout Russell Westbrook’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s basically the biggest talking point of the season thus far.
The latest report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne shines the spotlight on how certain voices from within the Lakers organization illustrate how they deal with Russell Westbrook, warts and all.
The most recent talking point revolved around Frank Vogel’s controversial decision to bench Westbrook during the closing minutes of their game against the Indiana Pacers.
“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” said the Lakers coach on sitting Russell Westbrook.
According to the report, the Lakers had allegedly mulled over the move “for weeks”. It took Frank Vogel being put under scrutiny for his own job for him to throw caution to the wind and just pull the trigger. The worry apparently centered around Russell Westbrook’s “defensive” nature, which he was said to have shown during team film sessions.
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.
Westbrook, as usual, seems to be at the center of every cause and potential solution to the dysfunction.
The Lakers have little choice but to try and make things work with their polarizing superstar, given the lack of avenues to improve and the near impossibility of finding a way to trade him without invoking the name John Wall. The hope is just that he turns it up during the second half of the season, just as he did last year and has done in seasons past.
As one Lakers insider said, “There is no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Others inside the organization are more patient, leaning on Westbrook’s long history of improving his play throughout the season as he adjusts to new surroundings and pointing to the mere 15 games that James, Davis and Westbrook have spent on the court together because of injuries.
There’s simply no other way the Lakers can go but through – with the task of solving the puzzle that is Russell Westbrook the most essential step in salvaging their season.
“It’s not like [Westbrook’s] a tradable player where if it’s not working out you just move on; everybody in the NBA knows that,” one team source said. “So it’s got to work. This is the only option. There is no Plan B for this season.”
Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers continue to merely tread water, hovering just around the .500 mark rather than go either direction. The season is far from over in LA, but with the team still yet to hit its stride past the midway point of the season, desperation moves such as Frank Vogel’s benching decision, or something even more extreme, could be in the pipeline.