Russell Westbrook, who was taken out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup in the closing minutes of their loss Wednesday to the Indiana Pacers, says he was “disappointed” by the decision to not play in crunch time.
In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Westbrook was asked whether he was surprised by Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s decision to pull him with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in a game the Lakers trailed 101-94.
“Surprised, yes. I was disappointed I didn’t go back in, but I’m more disappointed that we lost the damn game.
“I want to be able to be on the floor to help my teammates and be able to help our team win in games like that — but that was a decision that was made.”
Westbrook also said he remains undeterred in how to “figure s— out and do what’s best for our team to win in the long run,” Wojnarowski reports.
Westbrook tells ESPN: "I have accepted everything that has been asked of me and tried to do it to the best of my ability."
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 21, 2022
Vogel replaced Westbrook for Malik Monk, a move Vogel defended by saying he was “playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.”
Westbrook spoke with ESPN as the Lakers arrived in Orlando to begin a six-game road trip that tips off Friday against the Magic (7 ET, NBA League Pass). At 22-23, the Lakers are No. 8 in the Western Conference and just two games behind the No. 6-seeded Denver Nuggets. In his conversation with ESPN, Westbrook made it clear he’s committed to finding a firm footing with the Lakers and hopes he can be a part of turning their season around.
The Lakers’ roster has been completely overhauled over the last 13 months, with only LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker remaining from last season.
The oft-injured Davis has missed 14 games since Dec. 17 with a sprained left knee, only recently returning to on-court work. James has missed 11 games with various ailments, and major COVID-19 setbacks affected the Lakers along with numerous smaller injuries. But Westbrook wasn’t about to let any of that be an excuse for him.
“Ultimately, you have to be OK when s— doesn’t go well and I’m OK,” Westbrook told ESPN. “I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me here, and I’ll continue to do so and ride this out as long as we can toward our ultimate goal — and that’s to win a championship.
“We obviously haven’t been fully healthy, but I’m committed to making this thing work. The communication is there with everybody in the organization to make this thing work, to make this team we all want it to be in the future.
“I have accepted everything that has been asked of me and tried to do it to the best of my ability. I’m not the ultimate decision-maker of if it’s working — or if it’s not working. I’m OK with sacrificing some of the things that I’ve been able to do in this game to win, because that’s the most important part of this game. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do to this point.”
After the loss to the Pacers, James chuckled when asked if Westbrook’s benching upset him. He then asked a reporter a series of questions: “Have you followed Russ throughout his career? Have you followed Russ throughout this season? Would you think that would bother Russ not being in that game?” The reporter’s response: “I would imagine.” James grinned before saying, “there’s your answer.” James then added, “you should quote yourself. You guys want to quote us all the time; quote yourself.”
Westbrook told ESPN he is trying to carry out Vogel’s wishes and is trying to “figure out” how he can help the Lakers play better.
“Everybody is trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I try to put my head down and do the best that I can do for our team, and whatever is asked of me I try to do it to the best of my ability. That’s all I’ve been trying to do since I got here,” he told ESPN.
Westbrook — the Kia MVP in 2016-17 — is off to a mediocre start with his hometown team. He’s averaging 18.5 points — the 14-year veteran’s lowest mark since his second NBA season — and is second in the NBA with 4.2 turnovers per game, an incredible number coming at crucial moments for his up-and-down club.
Vogel has emphatically backed Westbrook, and his players have been uniformly behind him in public.
“I feel good about what we’re doing with our team, and don’t feel good always about the results,” Vogel said Wednesday. “But I believe in what we can do this year, and so (I’m) steadfastly remaining focused on the task at hand.”
Overall, Westbrook hopes to be a part of whatever success the Lakers may enjoy the rest of 2021-22.
“It’s been a challenge for the last three years — just trying to figure things out. I lean on a lot of my faith to be able to stay locked in on my craft and work my a– off and find ways to make situations work,” he told ESPN. “The challenge is how to be the version of myself for this team, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.
“I want to get better as the season goes on, and I’ve got to take responsibility for the things I’m doing and how I’m making those around me better. We have a legitimate chance to be able to win it all, and to do that, I’ll have to better — and I know that I will be.”
Information from NBA.com’s Mark Medina and The Associated Press was used in this report.