EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — With Frank Vogel removed as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the day, Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook opened up about the disconnect that existed between the two of them in his first season in LA
« I think it’s unfortunate, to be honest, because I’ve never had an issue with any of my coaches before, » Westbrook said on Monday after his exit interview with the Lakers’ front office. « I’m not sure what his issue was with me or I’m not sure why, but I can’t really give you an answer to why we really never connected. »
Westbrook, who was the highest-paid player during the Lakers’ nightmarish 2021-22 season, wasn’t done with his gripping with just the coach, either. He took aim at several other aspects of his Lakers experience that went awry in his 21-minute news conference, detailing how he felt he was wronged.
« When I first got here, the ability to be able to do what I’m able to do for a team and an organization wasn’t given a fair chance, » he said.
Westbrook went on to blame false news reports as a contributing factor to his struggles this past season.
« The famous ‘source’ stories that came out about myself, whether it be between me and the staff, me and Frank, me and the fans, there’s just so many made-up stories that are not true, » Westbrook said. « It’s just always having to fight against that constantly. It’s just not [being] given a fair chance. It’s like, ‘OK, now I got to fight against this made-up story. Now I got to fight against this one. Now I go to fight against this one. Now I got to fight against this one.' »
When asked directly to name one example of a fabricated story about his time with the Lakers, he did not offer a specific response.
« No, » Westbrook said. « I can’t. You know the examples. I don’t want to get in details, what story, who wrote it, why … it’s pointless. It really doesn’t matter because it’s not true. If it doesn’ you come from me [it is not true]. »
The 2017 league MVP also said that LeBron James’ and Anthony Davis’ repeated intentions to « let Russ be Russ » in unlocking the best version of the former All-Star were disingenuous.
« Yeah, [they said it], » Westbrook said. « But that wasn’t true. »
When asked to elaborate, Westbrook said it came down to the pieces being unable to complement one another.
« It’s a combination of where we are on the floor, positioning, fit and challenge, trial and error, being able to play on the floor with each other, » Westbrook said. « Finding ways to be able to utilize us to the best of our abilities. It’s that simple. »
Westbrook, who has a player option for next season worth $47 million, did not have a simple answer when asked if he planned to exercise it. « Umm, I’ll make the decision, » he said. « That’s why it’s called ‘player option.' »
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka did not commit to giving the James-Davis-Westbrook group another chance next season, should Westbrook opt in.
« Like any player, we’ll partner with him after that decision is made about what’s best for his future, » Pelinka said. « Rest assured, we’re going to look under every stone for ways to be better and be open to anything that will improve our team and will put us in a position to compete at a higher level next year than we did this year. »
Westbrook, who played in 78 games and averaged 18.5 points on 44.4% shooting (29.8% from 3), 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, did admit his production didn’t meet his personal standards.
« Just my play in general, not my best season, just going off my own personal scale, » he said. « Obviously I’m coming off averaging a triple-double, so anything less than that would not be a good season for me in my eyes, you know what I’m saying? So that’s why the scale of where it comes from is a little bit different. »
Following a loss to the Phoenix Suns last week that officially eliminated the Lakers from play-in tournament contention, Westbrook said « the plan » would be to play for LA again next season so that he, James and Davis could see what they look like together with the benefit of health. They played just 21 games together this season because of various injuries, going 11-10.
« I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something, » he said.
After all of the grievances Westbrook shared on Monday, he was asked what would entice him to want to play for the Lakers again, with the additional context seemingly not lining up with his previous declaration.
« I mean, obviously it’s going to be a lot of different changes based on who the coach is and how our style of play and what we play like, » he said. « So, that question is kind of up in the air. But once that decision is made then we’ll kind of go from there. »