Frank Vogel rumors: Lakers coach was authorized to bench Russell Westbrook, won’t be fired on Friday

The Los Angeles Lakers trailed the Indiana Pacers by only a single point when Russell Westbrook re-entered Wednesday’s game with 8:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. With under four minutes to go, their deficit had ballooned up to seven. This was hardly a surprise. 

The Lakers have been outscored by 34 points in Westbrook’s 342 fourth-quarter minutes this season. In the 198 fourth-quarter minutes they’ve played without him, they’ve outscored their opponents by 50 points. With yet another opportunity squandered on Westbrook’s watch, Vogel had seen enough. He pulled Westbrook out of the game at the 3:52 mark and never reinserted him. After the game, he was brutally honest about his decision. 

“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel explained when asked about Westbrook’s benching. It is a move that Lakers fans have clamored for all season, but one that will surely have enormous repercussions in the locker room. Westbrook is not only a former MVP, but one that LeBron James lobbied the team to acquire personally. 

But according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Vogel was given the green light to bench Westbrook by the front office, whose approach over the past week and a half has been to allow Vogel to handle Westbrook as he saw fit. McMenamin noted that Westbrook failed to defend Pacers guard Caris LeVert as the game-plan emphasized that he should, which likely played a part in Westbrook getting benched.

Vogel himself is in an extremely precarious position. Reports have suggested that Vogel is currently coaching for his job, and that he was almost fired after the Lakers were dealt a 37-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. Vogel will not be fired for the time being and will travel to Orlando to coach against the Magic on Friday, according to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes.

Vogel used six players after removing Westbrook: James, Carmelo Anthony, Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Avery Bradley and Malik Monk. Four of those players, like Westbrook, are guards. Another significant guard, Kendrick Nunn, is slated for a major role when he returns from the injury that has held him out all season. It is therefore worth asking what exactly Westbrook’s role will be moving forward if Vogel is finally willing to allocate his minutes based on performance over reputation. Might Westbrook be forced to come off of the bench rather than start? The Lakers could try to trade Westbrook before the Feb. 10 deadline, but according to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, the market for him is “nonexistent.”

For now, that means that all the Lakers can do is hold Westbrook accountable for his play. He is shooting 30.2 percent from the field in his last seven games. He’s been a defensive liability all season and the Lakers have played better with him on the bench by virtually every statistical marker. That is not the sort of player that deserves to close games, and if Wednesday was any indication, that’s a role Westbrook will have to earn back if it’s one he wants to have at all.

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