Lakers coach Frank Vogel has been told by the team's management to coach star guard Russell Westbrook as he sees fit, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, even if it means benching Westbrook at the end of games.
ESPN's report on the assurances given to Vogel by the front office comes after Westbrook was pulled for the final 3:52 of Los Angeles's 111–104 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night.
Westbrook logged 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting in 27 minutes Wednesday.
Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported after the loss that despite the Lakers' being 1–4 in their last five games and 22–23 on the season, the team will not be making a personnel move at this juncture, and Vogel will coach the team Friday vs. the Magic.
"The coaching staff has been great,” star forward LeBron James said after the loss. “They put us in position to succeed, and it’s up to us to go out and handle the business. So, there’s always things we all can do better.”
Asked, however, whether Westbrook was unhappy about being benched, James replied, “Have you followed Russ’s career?”
Earlier this week, The Athletic's Bill Oram and Sam Amick reported Vogel's status as the Lakers coach was in jeopardy amid the team's recent struggles. Per The Athletic, Vogel is under fire more than ever before and is coaching for his job, having nearly been fired following Los Angeles's 37-point loss to the Nuggets on Saturday.
Vogel agreed to a contract extension with the Lakers in August, after having amassed a 94—49 regular-season record in his first two seasons with the team. He has also recorded an 18—9 record in the postseason with the Lakers, having guided Los Angeles to the 17th championship in franchise history.
However, with a roster that has dealt with injuries and has limited flexibility, Los Angeles currently sits tied for seventh in the Western Conference.
Per The Athletic, the organization’s decision-makers are closely monitoring the key question of whether Vogel still has command of the locker room. In late November, NBA reporter Marc Stein also noted how there was increasing buzz in coaching circles about increasing pressure on Vogel following the team's 10–10 start to the year.
Lakers-Magic is set to tip off at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.
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