LOS ANGELES — Frank Vogel was looking for something… no, anything that would stem the tide as the game slipped away. He searched for players giving consistent effort, some consistent offense, maybe someone who could slow a scorching hot Caris LeVert (who scored 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the fourth, on his way to 30 for the game).
In that search, Vogel benched Russell Westbrook for the final 3:52 of a game within reach. Vogel closed with a lineup of two starters, LeBron James and Avery Bradley, plus Carmelo Anthony, second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker and rookie Austin Reaves.
What was Vogel doing?
“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” he said. And he left it at that.
Westbrook left The Crypt without speaking to reporters. When LeBron was asked if Westbrook was unhappy after being benched in the clutch, he answered, “have you followed Russ’ career?”
Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff was frustrated with Westbrook’s defense on LeVert and had the green light from management to bench the star, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
The tension around Vogel and how much longer he will be the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers was palpable Wednesday night in the Crypto.com arena even before the Lakers blew a second-half lead and lost to the struggling Pacers 111-104.
Vogel will not be fired before the team leaves on its six-game Grammys road trip Thursday, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Los Angeles Lakers will not be making a personnel move at this juncture and Frank Vogel will travel with the team tomorrow to coach in Orlando on Friday, league sources tell @YahooSports.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 20, 2022
It’s not a good sign when there needs to be leaks and anonymous sources that a coach will NOT be fired before the next game.
That the leak was needed speaks to the sense of inevitability around Vogel’s future with the Lakers. Sources described a sense of pressure from the top down with the Lakers to do something to change the course of a disappointing 22-23 season.
That could be make a trade, with the deadline approaching Feb. 10, except GM Rob Pelinka and the front office backed this team into a financial corner. They could trade Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn (who has not played this season due to injury) and a future first-round pick in 2027, and with that maybe bring back a starter-level player from another team. But does that change the course of the season?
Or, they could fire the coach.
The guy who benched the front office’s prized offseason acquisition for the final 3:52 of the game (even if he had approval to do so).
“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said before the game. “It’s not hard to do my job. I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way. It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not. It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers’ coach. We have high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market. I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best, and to demand excellence of our group. That’s what we demand of ourselves.”
LeBron continued to put up MVP numbers in the loss, 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting, plus 12 rebounds. He didn’t start the game at center — Dwight Howard did — but LeBron did close it at the five.
After the game, LeBron said this loss — and this season — was not all on Vogel.
“The coaching staff has been great,” LeBron said. “They put us in position to succeed and it’s up to us to go out and handle the business. So, there’s always things we all can do better.”
When pressed, LeBron was not going to play the blame game.
“Listen, I’m not in that business of pointing fingers, or pointing blame or trying to put a quote at the end or at the start of somebody’s [story]… If it’s not positive for me, I’m cool. That’s not my lane. I’m not a negative person.
Vogel, for his part, said he just wanted to keep his head down and do his job.
“In this business and with this team, if you’re not winning at a super-high level, you’re going to get this type of noise,” Vogel said pregame. “I’m good at blocking it out. I feel good about the job we’re doing, and obviously we believe the results are going to come. But over the course of an 82-game season with a new group, you’re going to have some ugly nights.”
Wednesday was one of those ugly nights.
And it added to a sense of inveviablility about what comes next.