After acquiring Westbrook over the summer, the Lakers have performed well below expectations and look far from assured of sealing a play-off spot; listen to the latest episode of Heatcheck on Spotify or watch in full on the Sky Sports YouTube channel
Thursday 20 January 2022 19:13, UK
After Russell Westbrook was benched in the latter stages of the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the star point guard's time with his hometown team could be approaching an abrupt end.
As he has done throughout his career, Westbrook is splitting opinion around the NBA, but he appears to have lost the confidence of an important individual - Lakers head coach Frank Vogel.
Although Westbrook's team-mate LeBron James may have the ultimate say on whether the team chooses to trade his friend, Vogel's decision to remove the nine-time All-Star for almost the final four minutes of a close game suggested the end could be near... for somebody.
While ESPN have reported that Vogel has been given assurances that the organisation will support him in taking a hard line with Westbrook, one of the pair appears likely to become the fall guy for the Lakers' underwhelming first half of the season.
Considered a championship contender when they added Westbrook in the summer to the James-Anthony Davis combination that led the Lakers to the NBA title in 2020, more than halfway through this season they can't even be sure of reaching the playoffs.
The Lakers record of 22 wins and 23 losses has them eighth in the Western Conference, a position that would leave them needing to win a play-in game to secure a place in the post-season proper.
Westbrook's huge salary and disappointing performances this season mean he will be difficult to trade, but with every loss, speculation continues to grow that the Lakers will give up on the experiment before the upcoming trade deadline on February 10.
The absence of Davis, who suffered a knee injury in December, for the last 15 games has added to the pressure on Westbrook, and the team could opt to wait and see how the big man's expected return - before the trade deadline - impacts the team and Westbrook's performances.
On the latest edition of Sky Sports Heatcheck, Ovie Soko, Mo Mooncey and three-time NBA champion BJ Armstrong shared wide-ranging opinions on the Westbrook situation during a heated debate.
Team GB basketball player Ovie Soko says it's time for the Lakers to move on from Westbrook.
That's a no-brainer - he obviously has to be traded. However, I feel like the Lakers have themselves over-exposed here. I don't feel like he is as attractive around the league for what they might necessarily need.
I feel like the jig is up on Russ. Everybody knows now, the guy can go out there and get numbers with the best of them on a team that's mid-level to sub-par, but as soon as you put any real pressure, real expectation on him, this is what you get.
This is the first time he's been in a situation where he's playing amongst champions, who have won, and the expectation now is to win.
Before the season, all of us could have agreed the Lakers were one of the front-runners to win the championship and Russell Westbrook was expected to be an extremely huge part of that, but how he's been performing, it's just not that. He's not a good fit for this squad.
I honestly just believe it makes sense to try to move him for a piece that might fit the situation better.
Sky Sports Heatcheck analyst Mo Mooncey believes criticism should be directed at the Lakers' front office, not Westbrook.
The Russell Westbrook they've got is the Russell Westbrook they've traded for. It's not like he's come to LA and he's fallen off a cliff.
Is it Westbrook's fault that the coaching staff is putting him out there alongside DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, who also aren't going to space the floor? Is it Westbrook's fault that the front office has constructed a roster that they refused to pay Alex Caruso to stay? They couldn't negotiate with DeMar DeRozan to convince him to come to LA. Is it his fault, or has he just gone to a team that traded for him? It's not like he even went there as a free agent.
Russell Westbrook is Russell Westbrook, he wasn't going to come here and become a three-point shooter, he wasn't going to become a lockdown defender who just played a minimal role on offense, you knew what you were getting for him.
So all the Lakers fans who blame Westbrook for how this season has gone, and all the media who love to harp on about Westbrook as the reason this team is losing, no he's not. The front office constructed this roster, the coaching staff is putting out these line-ups, Russell Westbrook is just being Russell Westbrook and there are plenty of teams that he could help in the NBA.
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Three-time NBA champion BJ Armstrong believes Anthony Davis' failure to live up to his billing as the Lakers' best player is the team's biggest problem.
They don't need to restructure this. I want to be very clear here. There's been a lot of narratives, there's been a lot of media criticism of Russell Westbrook - he seems to be the easy target here for everything going on in LA.
I'm going to give him credit for this, some people can take this, he shows up and plays regardless of what's going on, he's not running away from this smoke.
The main issue with this Lakers team is the following… Who is the best player on the team and when are they going to perform like the best player on the team? The LA Lakers did not bring Russell Westbrook here to be the best player on the team.
LeBron James gets a pass from me and from everyone who's ever played this game and all the experts, why? Because you're watching a man put up numbers at his age like no one's ever done on a consistent basis. However, we can't expect LeBron - even though he's putting up numbers - to carry a team in this league night in and night out at his age.
We're not expecting LeBron James to be at that level because… he's already conceded that Anthony Davis should be the best player on the team if they're going to win a championship. Now because of the injury, we're in a situation where we're placing blame on Russell Westbrook, but the fact remains if Anthony Davis can't carry the mantle as the best player on the team, this is what you're going to get.
I'm not going to fault Russell Westbrook, I'm not going to fault the GM, let's fault the player who should be the best player on the team. I'm not even targeting Anthony Davis, but right now until he accepts that responsibility in a place like LA, then and only then can we say what is really going on because we are giving Russell Westbrook this unfair targeting and criticism for what.