There has been an increasing push among many in the Los Angeles Lakers organization to demote nine-time All-Star guard Russell Westbrook from the starting lineup, but so far coach Frank Vogel has resisted bringing him off the bench, sources told ESPN.
The coaching staff and Westbrook have had differing visions on how best to utilize the 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player, and that has partly accounted for some tense moments between Vogel and Westbrook in the past several days, including during a Friday team film session, sources said.
The mounting frustrations reflect a season spiraling into freefall. The Lakers have lost 11 of their past 14 games, including four in a row, to drop to 27-35. L.A. is only a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans to keep ninth place in the Western Conference.
Westbrook has spent the season searching for how best to excel in his ever-evolving role, one that has increasingly found him in an unfamiliar situation away from the ball and from playmaking. Westbrook has averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists in 34.4 minutes a game this season.
Vogel has maintained that there's still an opportunity for Westbrook to make a late-season charge as he did a season ago with the Washington Wizards.
When asked about the possibility of Westbrook, 33, assuming a bench role, Vogel told reporters Friday afternoon: "We have discussions, just like the front office has thousands of trade discussions every deadline, and they don't discuss every one of those. Most of them don't come to fruition. And that's where we're at with Russ. Is there a path where that's the better option? We have talked about that. We've talked about everything we can do with our team.
"We're not there."
Westbrook, who is shooting less than 30% on 3-pointers for the fourth time in five seasons, has scored fewer than 20 points in 10 consecutive games, his longest such stretch since 2009. Westbrook has a $47 million player option on his contract for the 2022-23 season.