Russell Westbrook’s relationship with former head coach Frank Vogel deteriorated as the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2021-22 season went on — as the guard confirmed during his exit interview.
Vogel benched Westbrook in crunch time of a few games, leading to some bitter comments from the 2017 NBA MVP in postgame pressers. However, the head coach reportedly resisted calls from within the organization to remove the playmaker from the starting lineup, suggesting he wanted to support his player.
Nevertheless, Westbrook thought Vogel questioned his talent and capabilities throughout the season.
“I’m not sure what his issue was with me,” he said. “I can’t really give you an answer why… we never really connected maybe? That’s something that he has to answer. From the get-go, was feeling like I was have to try to prove myself to him and my capabilities, and what I’ve been able to do for this game.
“And, it’s unfortunate, but it’s really … kind of out of my hands.”
To prove Westbrook intended to have a good relationship with Vogel, the 33-year-old recalled sending a bottle of champagne to the head coach and his wife, Jenifer, for their wedding anniversary at the beginning of his Lakers tenure.
“I think it’s unfortunate to be honest, because I’ve never had an issue with any of my coaches before,” Westbrook said about his experience of working with Vogel. “As much as people may assume, I’ve never had an issue with any coach, any players, any staff members, anybody actually, if we’re keeping it honest.”
Also, Westbrook said never in his career he has refused to adjust his game for the greater good of the team — denying claims of his unwillingness to make sacrifices during his first season with the Lakers.
“I embrace every change,” he said. “There wasn’t a time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’ Like, there was conversations where I may have showed like, what I bring to this team, in my abilities to better help the team win,” he said. ”May not have been in the cards of kind of how that, you know, the coach staff wanted to play. But there wasn’t an incident where … I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’
And he added: [E]verything that’s asked of me at the time, whether I like it or not … whether I like it or not. But I think it’s important to understand that when watching the game and understanding what I bring to the table, and if I’m in position to be able to be successful, that’s really not up to me. I just do what I’m asked and if it works, it doesn’t work, and I can take what comes with it.”
When asked how he defines sacrifice, Westbrook said he acts professionally when asked to perform in a certain way — whether he likes it or not.
“I’m doing what is best for the overall as it pertains to basketball, doing whatever is best for the team,” he said. “And I feel like I’m a player that has always done that and I will continue to do that regardless of whatever situation I’m in. If I’m asked to do something, regardless if I like it or not, this is a job and being professional, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
Westbrook discusses changes he would like to see if he returns to Lakers for 2022-23
Not long ago, Westbrook said he would like to give his partnership with LeBron James and Anthony Davis another go next season. Asked what he would like the Lakers to change if he returns to the team, he said the franchise needs to bring in a new head coach first before L.A. can figure out the best way to play in 2022-23.
“I mean, obviously, it’s gonna be a lot of different changes based on who the coach is and … and what we play like. So that question is kind of up in the air. But once that decision is made, and we kind of go from there,” Westbrook said.
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