Lakers guard Russell Westbrook “never respected” head coach Frank Vogel, a person with knowledge of the situation tells Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times.
“The moment Frank said anybody who gets the rebound can bring it up the court, which is just how the NBA is played these days, Russ was like, ‘Naw, I’m the point guard. Give the ball to me. Everybody run,'” the source told Woike and Turner. “Frank was like, ‘No, we have Talen (Horton-Tucker). We have Austin (Reaves). We have Malik (Monk). We have LeBron (James). We have AD (Anthony Davis). They can all bring the ball up.’ He was like, ‘Nope, I’m the point guard. Give me that s–t. Everybody get out the way.’
“From that point on, in training camp, it was a wrap, ‘cause now Russ is a fish out of water. He doesn’t know what to do. That’s how that started.”
Both the Times’ report and an in-depth Insider-only story from Ramona Shelburne of ESPN paint Vogel as one of Westbrook’s bigger supporters, resisting pushes from staffers and players to pull him from the starting lineup as the season went on. According to Shelburne, there were people in the organization who felt that only “humiliation” would prompt Westbrook to change his playing style to better fit in, but Vogel wanted to stand by him and give him the chance to figure things out.
However, Shelburne hears from team insiders that – in addition to being a poor on-court fit – Westbrook wasn’t a good “personality fit” alongside a non-confrontational coach like Vogel and a passive-aggressive star like James.
According to Woike and Turner, some Lakers staffers began to wonder during the season if the club had made a big mistake by not re-signing Jared Dudley to be a “locker-room buffer” who could help integrate Westbrook. The team had also wanted to hire Westbrook’s former coach Scott Brooks as an assistant on Vogel’s staff, but didn’t have the spot or the money for him after giving Mike Penberthy a promotion and a raise to prevent Jason Kidd from poaching him for his staff in Dallas, says Shelburne.
Here’s more on the Lakers:
- Although Vogel appears likely to be replaced after the season is over, the front office leadership group – led by Rob Pelinka and Kurt Rambis – is expected to remain intact and in power going forward, sources tell Shelburne.
- The Lakers, who were unwilling to attach their 2027 first-round pick to Westbrook at the trade deadline to grease the wheels on a deal, appear similarly reluctant to waive him this offseason and stretch his $47MM salary across three seasons, reports Shelburne. Releasing Westbrook might appeal more to the team if he were willing to give up money in a buyout agreement, but sources close to the guard have expressed pessimism that he’ll do so, Shelburne writes.
- One reason the Lakers acquired Westbrook rather than DeMar DeRozan last summer was timing-related — the team was able to move on Westbrook around the draft since he was under contract, whereas working out a sign-and-trade for DeRozan would’ve meant waiting for free agency (and coming up with a package that the Spurs would accept). However, sources close to the situation say that James’ and Davis’ enthusiasm for Westbrook were a significant factor in L.A.’s shift in focus as well, per Shelburne.