Among the culprits of this disappointment Los Angeles Lakers season, Frank Vogel ranks near the bottom of most lists. While his performance has been far from flawless, the general consensus is that he shouldn’t be blamed for the disastrous roster his front office has put together around him. It wasn’t his idea, after all, to trade it Russell Westbrook. He did not decide to build a team with 10 players of the lowest salary. Yet he is now to blame for that. He was expelled shortly after the season ended, according to the athleteHis handling of Westbrook’s situation played a huge role in his ouster.
According to The Athletic, “There was a strong sense that Vogel had to make Westbrook’s experiment work, and the fact that it didn’t lead to questions about whether Westbrook was put in a position to succeed.” This reasoning does not stand up to any degree of scrutiny. The Lakers knew as the season approached that Westbrook was a weak shooter and a lazy cutter and that he would therefore struggle when playing off the ball next to LeBron James. They knew he was a bad defender too, and it was always hard to ask them to slip into Vogel’s defense first culture. Simply put, the Lakers blame Vogel for doing things no other coach could get him to do.
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The ironic explanation here is that the front-office decision-makers who were laid off from Vogel were fighting to save their jobs and needed a scapegoat. But if you follow the breadcrumbs here, you might find yourself wondering why the Lakers bother to leak pro-Westbrook sentiment. There are some possibilities, some more encouraging than others.
The Lakers’ best view is that they are trying to gain a certain degree of influence. Stories like this can’t hurt their negotiating position when researching potential deals in Westbrook. The Lakers want other teams to believe they are comfortable holding Westbrook in the hope that this belief will allow them to escape the Westbrook deal without sacrificing meaningful capital.
The alternative here is that the Lakers have already made a decision that they are not willing to use significant capital to move Westbrook, and they are using the media to prepare fans for the possibility of him actually returning next season. Further backing that idea, according to Sam Amick, is that former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has had a say in the team’s affairs in recent years and is involved in the current research on coaching, is a fan of Westbrook.
The Lakers cannot bring Westbrook back next season and expect to win a championship. If their goal is to win on the spot, Westbrook should be dealt with. If he returns, it’s a sign that the Lakers are running out of time in the LeBron James era and waiting to rebuild with their remaining capital and cover space their expiring contracts will provide.
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