The Los Angeles Lakers held their exit interviews Monday after a disappointing season ended with them missing the postseason.
LeBron James kicked off the players and faced lots of questions about roster construction, his scoring title pursuit, and plans for the future. Vice President of Operations Rob Pelinka was next to appear at noon, followed by Russell Westbrook at 1:30 p.m. ET— that’s where the event took off.
A glaring lack of accountability clouded Westbrook’s comments, the most standout of which was that he was “not sure what [head coach Frank Vogel’s] issue was with me.” The story wrote itself from there.
Creating narratives of Westbrook
Russell Westbrook set the tone early on in his press conference when he said that he felt as if he was never given a fair chance. Taken out of context, this may look like he was not given a chance with the coach or his teammates, but the way he was speaking implied that he meant that he felt he was never given a chance in the narrative surrounding the Lakers.
“Unfortunately, people create narratives of me and who I am and what I do and what I believe in that are just not true,” said the Lakers’ point guard. “I always have to prove myself again and again and again… so when I first got here, I just felt that I was never given a fair chance.”
Westbrook’s comments hint at recurring criticisms he and the team face during the offseason and a majority of the regular season regarding their fit and lack of chemistry.
The Lakers were plagued by injuries and absences, mostly James and co-star Anthony Davis, all year long, — the “360” trio of James, Davis, and Westbrook only played 21 games together, which is just over 25% of the season. This affected the on-court product and was a major contributor to them missing the playoffs. To say that the critiques were unfair, however, is disingenuous.
The Lakers were doomed by many of Westbrook’s characteristic faults, which were the primary targets of criticisms he faced. Ultimately, many of the media narratives surrounding his lack of accountability, poor shooting and touch, and questionable decision-making played out just as they were expected to, and the Lakers finished 33-49.
Locating the issue
Russell Westbrook provided the quote of the day when he aimed at former head coach Frank Vogel, who was fired over the weekend after three seasons in LA.
“I never had an issue with any of my coaches before… I’m not sure what his issue was with me,” said Westbrook. “We never connected.”
Vogel’s greatest deficiency this season was his inability to figure out a consistent rotation; no team came up with more starting lineup combinations than the Lakers did, and the man at the top deserves the blame for this— but to say that he never gave Westbrook a fair shake is a bald-faced lie.
Reports during the season suggested that Vogel was pressured by the front office and other players and coaches to remove Westbrook from the closing lineup, a request that he did not grant until late in the season. In many ways, Vogel was Westbrook’s ultimate defender.
For Westbrook to question what the “issue” was is also very telling about his perspective on LA’s season; the UCLA product ranked 65th of 66 qualified jump-shooters, dead-last in free-throw shooting amongst points guards (and was 7.7% behind the second-worst), and fifth in turnovers per game despite a greatly-diminished usage rate.
The Lakers’ assembly of talent was suboptimal, but to suggest that there was a mysterious, intangible issue in the Vogel-Westbrook relationship is not reflective of reality.
Malik Monk took the podium just after Westbrook and provided a complete 180-degree turn, thanking the organization for giving him a chance, praising the lessons and relationships he forged with LeBron and AD and expressing his desire to suit up in the purple and gold next season.
Westbrook’s fate— and viewing from fans and media alike— looks to be much the opposite. Rumors are already swirling of potential trades, with the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers heading the list of early targets. “Brodie” still has one year left on his deal.