With around three minutes remaining in the Los Angeles Lakers' blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday, Russell Westbrook had an unusual moment. He was caught on the bench, huddled closely with superstar teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis, seemingly giving them some sort of pep talk.
James and Davis, exhausted from attempting to lead a comeback that Westbrook wasn't on the floor for, didn't seem particularly interested.
"I told them I wished I could help them," Westbrook said of the exchange. "Unfortunately, I wasn't in the game to be able to help them, and that's why I came here: To help them out. So unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that for them, but that's not my call."
It was Frank Vogel's call. The Lakers coach first benched Westbrook for the closing minutes of a loss to Indiana in January. He did so again against the New York Knicks on Saturday, an overtime victory earned largely due to how well the team played without him on the floor. With the Bucks dominating for most of the game Tuesday and Westbrook shooting 3 of 11 from the field with four turnovers, Vogel removed him from the game with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter. The Lakers trailed by 24 at that point, but cut the deficit to 10, again without Westbrook.
That doesn't mean Westbrook agreed with the decision. While Westbrook acknowledged that the choice isn't his, when asked if the coaching staff had given him any benchmarks he'd need to hit to close games, he scoffed at the very idea. "I don't have to hit a benchmark. Or I shouldn't have to," Westbrook said. "I earned the right to be in closing lineups. I mean, numbers will tell you. I don't have to explain that."
What numbers Westbrook is referring to are unclear. The Lakers have been outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when they've had Westbrook on the court in fourth quarters this season. With Westbrook off the floor, they've outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter. He's shooting 14 of 51 in his past four games, and he has as many turnovers as field goals in that span. The only numbers supporting Westbrook at this point are the historic ones he put up before joining the Lakers.
Westbrook doesn't seem to think Vogel has put him in an opportunity to post such numbers. He criticized his coach's rotations outside of crunch time as well.
"You never know when you're coming in, you never know when you're coming out," Westbrook argued. "You never know when you're playing, you never know … a bunch of things. And I'm speaking for me personally, so it's a difficult process to be able to figure out and create some rhythm and some consistency where we can actually see what we're able to do as a team, but those decisions are made by him and his coaching staff, and you've got to live it and move on."
With the trade deadline coming on Thursday, Westbrook is seemingly doing everything in his power to convince the Lakers that he doesn't belong in Los Angeles. If there's any possibility for a deal in the next day and a half, you'd better believe the Lakers will explore.