The Los Angeles Lakers fell to a shorthanded Indiana Pacers team 111-104 on Wednesday night.
Given that LA has lost more games than it has won this season, the defeat in itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy.
Rather, the most interesting thing about the loss is that it featured Lakers head coach Frank Vogel benching Russell Westbrook late in the game.
For the final 3 minutes and 52 seconds of the fourth quarter, Vogel opted to keep out the guy who had gone 5-of-17 up to that point. Instead, Malik Monk got the nod.
According to ESPN NBA insider Dave McMenamin, Vogel got the nod to sit Westbrook from the upper levels of the organization.
“One source close to the situation described the message from management to the staff as, ‘You got to do what you got to do.’”
After the game, Vogel had a pretty blunt response for why he opted to bench Westbrook.
Frank Vogel on his decision to bench Russ late in the game: “Playing the guys I thought we’re gonna win the game.” (That’s all he said on the matter.) https://t.co/EnstTgILuc
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) January 20, 2022
Lakers star LeBron James was also asked about the move.
“Have you followed Russ throughout his career?… Have you followed Russ throughout this season? Would you think that would bother Russ, not being in the game?”
Carmelo Anthony also weighed in on the matter.
“I don’t think it’s nothing personal,” he said. “It’s just something that he’s not used to. You would think somebody like that would be on the court. But with the flow of the game, there’s been times I haven’t been in the game or other guys haven’t been in the game. So I don’t think it’s anything personal.
“It’s just something that Russ has got to… We gotta help him figure it out. It’s frustrating. I can tell you that,” Anthony continued.
“It’s frustrating as a player who’s trying to make it right, trying to do things right. This is new for him. This is a new situation. This is a new environment. We got to help him through it. I mean, that’s the only thing we can do, is make sure his mental is right. That’s the only thing I care about. I don’t care about any basketball stuff when it comes to Russ.
“As long as his mental is right, then I’m good.”
Earlier this week, the real reason the Lakers acquired Westbrook emerged. It clarified how LA got into this mess, but not how the franchise will get out of it.
Paige VanZant kept it real. https://t.co/68mlyaHLpE
— Game 7 (@game7__) January 20, 2022
Obviously a couple of trades have been discussed, but it’s tough to see how they will ultimately move the needle.
For better or worse, it feels like the Lakers are stuck with the players they have. And if that’s the case, it’s difficult to see a scenario where they somehow improve on the way they are currently playing.