After benching, Russ still focused on L.A. winning

  • Host of The Woj Pod
  • Joined ESPN in 2017

Los Angeles Lakers star Russell Westbrook told ESPN that he didn’t agree with his fourth-quarter benching in Wednesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers but that he remains undeterred about how to “figure s— out and do what’s best for our team to win in the long run.”

Asked whether he was surprised that coach Frank Vogel substituted him out of the final four minutes of LA’s fourth loss in five games, Westbrook told ESPN: “Surprised, yes. I was disappointed I didn’t go back in, but I’m more disappointed that we lost the damn game.

“I want to be able to be on the floor to help my teammates and be able to help our team win in games like that — but that was a decision that was made.”

ESPN reported on Thursday that the coaching staff had management authorization to bench Westbrook in the telltale minutes of the game, and Vogel told reporters that he played “the guys that I thought were going to win the game.”

In an interview with ESPN upon the Lakers’ arrival in Orlando to start a six-game Eastern Conference trip, Westbrook wanted to make clear his commitment to finding his footing on his fourth team in four seasons and called for patience to give him and the Lakers a chance to get back a healthy All-NBA forward Anthony Davis and find a way to shape into a championship contender. The Lakers, 21-22 and eighth in the Western Conference, are considered one of the league’s most disappointing teams.

“Ultimately, you have to be OK when s— doesn’t go well and I’m OK,” Westbrook told ESPN. “I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me here, and I’ll continue to do so and ride this out as long as we can toward our ultimate goal — and that’s to win a championship.

“We obviously haven’t been fully healthy, but I’m committed to making this thing work. The communication is there with everybody in the organization to make this thing work, to make this team we all want it to be in the future.

“I have accepted everything that has been asked of me and tried to do it to the best of my ability. I’m not the ultimate decision-maker of if it’s working — or if it’s not working. I’m OK with sacrificing some of the things that I’ve been able to do in this game to win, because that’s the most important part of this game. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do to this point.”

Westbrook was unhappy with characterizations that he stormed out of the Crypto.com Arena locker room without meeting with reporters in a postgame news conference. Both Westbrook and team officials said on Thursday that the organization requested that he skip the interview session.

Westbrook, 33, insists that he’s trying to carry out Vogel’s wishes amid a slew of injuries and inconsistent lineups.

“I think the communication of what (Vogel) wants and how he wants it kind of changes because guys have been in and out of the lineup,” Westbrook told ESPN. “Everybody is trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I try to put my head down and do the best that I can do for our team, and whatever is asked of me I try to do it to the best of my ability. That’s all I’ve been trying to do since I got here.”

Westbrook, a nine-team All-Star and 2017 NBA MVP, arrived on he Lakers in a July trade with the Washington Wizards. The Lakers are his fourth stop in four years, including Houston and Oklahoma City. Westbrook described the process of learning to play with former Rocket James Harden and the Wizards’ Bradley Beal as preparation for what awaited him with LeBron James and Davis on these Lakers.

“I think it’s important to know that part of the process of being on a new team is that there are going to be a lot of ups and downs and struggles throughout a season,” Westbrook told ESPN. “It’s been a challenge for the last three years — just trying to figure things out. I lean on a lot of my faith to be able to stay locked in on my craft and work my a– off and find ways to make situations work. The challenge is how to be the version of myself for this team, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

“I want to get better as the season goes on, and I’ve got to take responsibility for the things I’m doing and how I’m making those around me better. We have a legitimate chance to be able to win it all, and to do that, I’ll have to better — and I know that I will be.”

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