Tramel's ScissorTales: Russell Westbrook benching won't go so smoothly this time for Lakers

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·22 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Russell Westbrook leads the NBA in minutes played; 1,571.

But it’s the minutes that Westbrook didn't play that made news Wednesday night. In crunch time, with the game and season in jeopardy, Lakers coach Frank Vogel benched the fading superstar.

And now, Malik Monk has joined Eric Maynor in an exclusive club: the NBA players who competed on a basketball court while Westbrook was benched.

It first happened to Westbrook, in a meaningful way, 11 years ago. May 19, 2011, in the Thunder’s Game 2 against Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.

It happened again Wednesday night in Los Angeles, against the careening Indiana Pacers.

The first time was stunning and quite successful. The second time was not the least bit surprising and was a little bit sad.

Vogel substituted Monk for Westbrook with 3:52 left in the game. Monk was inserted with Indiana leading 101-94, and the Pacers went on to win 111-104.

'We never really hit back': Thunder falls to 1-8 in January after blowout loss at Spurs

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. The Lakers won 101-95. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) ORG XMIT: NYOTK
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. The Lakers won 101-95. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) ORG XMIT: NYOTK

The Lakers have been losing and Westbrook has been struggling, and the embattled Vogel’s job clearly is on the line. Maybe he thought he had little to lose.

So out went Westbrook, who had made just five of 17 shots, with two rebounds, three assists and only one turnover, with 3:52 left. At the same substitution, Vogel inserted OU rookie Austin Reaves, in place of Avery Bradley.

The Lakers coach apparently figured his team was better off with Reaves on the court and Westbrook off it. My, how the world has changed.

Eleven years ago, benching Westbrook was a novel idea. Not, how do you do it? Rather, why would you want to?

Westbrook was a third-year player, blossoming into a star, and the Thunder was led by a bunch of 22- and 21-year-old upstarts. OKC had stormed into the West finals and had a chance to even its series against Dallas 1-1.

Even by 2011, Westbrook was a mercurial player and personality. Back then, pundits still debated whether he was a point guard, an argument that now ranks as silly. But Westbrook already was an all-star, and the idea of playing the most important few minutes of the season without him was absurd.

Scotty Brooks did it anyway.

The Thunder had a precarious lead on the Mavericks that night in Dallas, and Maynor was playing well, with fellow B teamers and Kevin Durant. OKC opened the fourth quarter with Durant, James Harden, Maynor, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook. And Foreman Scotty never substituted, until the final 36 seconds. Westbrook never came back.

'Perfect position': Why Aaron Wiggins is next in Thunder's two-way player to contributor pipeline

That Thunder quintet kept playing well, and Brooks rode that group to virtually the end. The Thunder won 106-100.

“If you would tell me they would leave Westbrook out the whole fourth quarter, and we don’t get stops to win...” said Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki.

That fourth quarter was some of the best basketball the Thunder ever played in a playoff series. It made 11 of 17 shots, with just one turnover.

Brooks later admitted he thought about bringing back Westbrook, but OKC was playing too well to disturb the rotation.

Eleven years later, the world is a different place. Westbrook is not an unbridled 22-year-old, a brilliant player still learning the intricacies of the professional game. Westbrook is an unbridled 33-year-old, his supreme athletic ability starting to erode, his flashes of greatness interrupted by longer and longer interludes. And frustrations starting to mount.

The Lakers, at LeBron James’ behest, basically traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma to the Wizards for Westbrook last summer. The Lakers gave away their depth and got the ghost of an all-star.

LA has been paying the price ever since. Westbrook no longer is the whirling dervish he was as a Thunder 20something back in the OKC glory days. No longer the crusading Most Valuable Player he was in 2017.

These days, Westbrook is a turnover-prone, poor shooter who still is capable of producing big numbers but no longer is a dominant player, despite his $44 million salary.

The Lakers are 22-23, praying that LeBron stays timeless and Anthony Davis returns soon from injury.

Tramel: Why losing during Thunder's rebuild doesn't have to hurt habits of OKC's young core

Defense apparently was Westbrook’s downfall Wednesday. When Indiana’s Caris LeVert blew past Westbrook for a layup midway through the fourth quarter, the Laker coaching staff clearly was upset.

When asked later what went into benching Westbrook, Vogel said, “Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.”

ESPN reported that Laker coaches had been pondering sitting Westbrook late in games but were worried about how Westbrook would respond.

Westbrook left the court with 8.4 seconds left in the game and did not speak to the media.

When LeBron was asked if Westbrook was bothered, LeBron answered with a question: “Would you think that would bother Russ?”

The Lakers’ Carmelo Anthony has spoken of his own late-career trials, how difficult it can be, going from main man to role player.

OKC Thunder schedule: How to watch the Thunder in 2021-22 NBA season

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday Jan. 15, 2022, in Denver. The Nuggets won 133-96. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) ORG XMIT: OTKDZ267
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday Jan. 15, 2022, in Denver. The Nuggets won 133-96. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) ORG XMIT: OTKDZ267

“It’s just something that he’s not used to,” Carmelo said. “You would think somebody like that would be on the court. But with the flow of the game, there’s been times I haven’t been in the game or other guys haven’t been in the game. So I don’t think it’s anything personal.”

It’s one thing to sit because the team is thriving and your replacement is playing well. It’s quite another to sit because your coach wants you out.

“It’s frustrating, I can tell you that,” Carmelo said. “It’s frustrating as a player who’s trying to make it right, trying to do things right. This is new for him. This is a new situation. This is a new environment. We got to help him through it. I mean, that’s the only thing we can do, is make sure his mental is right.”

Well, good luck with that. Westbrook is a prideful player. He never met a basketball problem he didn’t think he could fix. Westbrook sees himself as the solution.

But Westbrook never was a fundamental player. Never was a percentage player. He was a thrilling ball of fire. He consumed opponents with skill wrapped in a blaze of the rarest athletic ability.

Now the athletic ability is subsiding, the thrills come less often, and Westbrook’s skill has to carry more weight. Often, that isn’t enough.

Vogel knows it, Carmelo sees it and Westbrook must live with it.

Westbrook quickly returned to greatness 11 years ago. The next game, in fact.

Westbrook’s return to greatness now will come less often and for shorter stretches. His time on the bench will increase, and the club of Eric Maynor and Malik Monk will grow.

'It was a little bit of a perfect storm': How the Thunder's first alternate court came together

Thunder lottery outlook improves

The Spurs jumped on the Thunder early and often Wednesday night. San Antonio built a huge lead and coasted to a 118-96 victory.

Not what the Thunder players wanted. But it’s what the Thunder franchise needed, in terms of chances in the NBA Draft lottery. And then the final four NBA games of the night went the Thunder’s way.

The Rockets stunned the Jazz 116-111 in Salt Lake City. The Nuggets beat the Clippers 130-128 in overtime. The Pistons surprised the Kings 133-111. Finally, the Pacers beat the Lakers 111-104.

All helped the Thunder’s lottery chances.

It’s not pleasant to talk about the need to lose, and the hope that the rest of the NBA’s dregs lose, too. Not pleasant, but absolutely true.

The events of the night mean that:

► The Thunder is tied with Houston in the win column, each with 14 wins. The loss column is more important for winning teams, but the win column is more important for losing teams.

The Thunder is 14-30; the Rockets are 14-32. Only Orlando (8-38) and Detroit (11-33) have worse records.

The three teams with the worst records are given the same lottery chances, 14 percent to get the overall No. 1 pick.

► The Thunder drew a little closer to Detroit. OKC is only three games ahead of the Pistons in the NBA standings. That’s ground that could be made up over the last 38 games of the season.

► The Pacers’ victory puts some territory between Indiana and OKC. The Pacers had lost 10 of 11 games and were threatening to muscle in on the Thunder’s lottery territory. Still are, to be honest. But at least now, Indiana is a 1½ games ahead of OKC.

► The Clippers fell to 22-24 and are in ninth place in the West. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.

The Thunder owns the Clippers’ 2022 first-round draft pick. If the Clippers fail to make the playoffs, the Thunder would have another lottery pick.

Chances are, the Clippers don’t move up in the lottery and would settle in at 14. But you never know. Every little bit helps, and Wednesday night certainly helped the Thunder.

More: Let's rank the Thunder's alternate jerseys again. You'll be surprised where the new City Edition fits in.

The List: Steeler quarterback odds

Ben Roethlisberger apparently has played his final game in the National Football League, after 18 seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting quarterback.

Sportsbetting.ag has listed the favorites to succeed Big Ben in Pittsburgh, and No. 1 on the list is a name familiar to Oklahomans:

1. Mason Rudolph 2.75/1: Roethlisberger’s four-year backup, OSU’s quarterback for 3¼ seasons, doesn’t seem like a candidate long-term.

2. Derek Carr 7/1: Is the Raider veteran on the move? He seems set in Las Vegas.

3. Jimmy Garoppolo 15/2: Garoppolo seems to me the most likely candidate, since the 49ers have Trey Lance in the wings.

4. Jameis Winston 9/1: Some believe the Saints still see Winston as their quarterback o the future. He’s also coming off major knee surgery.

5. Kenny Pickett 10/1: The Steelers are slotted at 20th in the NFL Draft, so someone like Pickett, from hometown Pitt, could be available.

6. Matt Corral 10/1: The Ole Miss quarterback also could be available around No. 20 in the draft.

T-7. Kirk Cousins 11/1: The Vikings are trying to figure out what to do with their embattled quarterback, who is scheduled to make $35 million next season. Cousins wouldn’t be easy to trade, but he would be an upgrade over Roethlisberger.

T-7. Ryan Fitzpatrick 11/1: FitzMagic is long gone, and I assume he won’t be back in Washington, and I assume the Steelers can find someone better, but you never know.

T-9. Dwayne Haskins 12/1: The Steelers’ third-team quarterback in 2021. He no longer seems an NFL prospect, but if Haskins gets in a quarterback derby with Rudolph in training camp, who knows?

FILE - Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph waits for a drill to begin during NFL football practice Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Pittsburgh. Rudolph will be given a chance to be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback in 2022 with veteran Ben Roethlisberger expected to retire after an 18-year career. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, File)
FILE - Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph waits for a drill to begin during NFL football practice Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Pittsburgh. Rudolph will be given a chance to be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback in 2022 with veteran Ben Roethlisberger expected to retire after an 18-year career. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, File)

T-9. Malik Willis 12/1: The Liberty U. quarterback could be around that 20th pick range along with Corral and Pickett.

T-9. Russell Wilson 12/1: Does Wilson want out of Seattle? Can Pittsburgh beat others to the punch with a deal that entices the Seahawks? The answers are maybe and probably not. But man, Steeler fans can dream.

12. Marcus Mariota 13/1: An intriguing candidate. Mariota is 29-32 as a starter with the Titans and has occasional shining moments as Carr’s backup with the Raiders. Seems like taking a chance on Mariota would be a low-cost risk for an enterprising team.

13. Tyrod Taylor 14/1: An 11-year pro who is 26-25-1 as a starter. Sort of the Mariota story, only older.

14. Desmond Ridder 15/1: The Cincinnati U. quarterback might be available to the Steelers in the second round.

T-15. Aaron Rodgers 16/1: Most people have Rodgers going to Denver, if he wants out of Green Bay.

T-15. Mitch Trubisky 16/1: Some say he was a bust in Chicago, despite a 29-21 record as a starter. Now the Buffalo backup, Trubisky could likely be had cheap.

17. Sam Howell 18/1: The North Carolina Tar Heel could be a first-round pick.

18. Cam Newton 25/1: Seems like the Steelers are smarter than to take a New England and Carolina reject.

Tramel's ScissorTales: Kyler Murray's slide could cost Kliff Kingsbury his job

Mailbag: Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor

My piece on Ralph Neely last week has Cowboy fans shaking their heads.

Bill: “The Cowboys are doomed to mediocrity until the pompous owner places Jimmy’s name in the Ring of Honor.”

Tramel: Jerry Jones’ hold on the Cowboy Ring of Honor indeed is strange. Jimmy Johnson is not in.

Last summer, during the Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend, when Johnson was inducted, Jones, Johnson and their quarterback, Troy Aikman, appeared together on a Fox panel. Jones was asked if Johnson would ever be honored by the Cowboys.

“He will be in the Ring of Honor,” Jones said.

Johnson, 78, responded, “While I’m alive?”

Maybe. Maybe not. Since then, silence from Jones on the subject. No word on when Johnson might go in.

Johnson was the architect of the Dallas Renaissance. Frankly, Johnson is responsible for Jones’ status as some kind of National Football League icon. Jones, too, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – a dubious move by Canton – in large part because Johnson put together a great team and won back-to-back Super Bowls.

I wrote about how the Cowboys had overlooked Neely, an offensive tackle who made the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1960s but never was placed in the Ring of Honor. Neely died two weeks ago.

But there are a bunch of Cowboy greats not in the Ring of Honor. Harvey Martin, Everson Walls, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Deion Sanders, Daryl Johnston. Now contemporary players like Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are emerging as candidates.

And the person who deserves to be in most is Jimmy Johnson.

Tramel: Zac Taylor has gone from son-in-law to successful as he coaches Bengals into NFL playoffs

NIL expert is reasonably optimistic about future

The Name/Image/Likeness revolution has taken hold in college sports. Athletes now are free to be paid for endorsements, appearances and, frankly, whatever else anyone wants to pay them for.

It’s an economic open range, with NCAA rules and enforcement lagging far behind.

Attorney Peter Schoenthal is attempting to step into the void. He founded Athliance, a company that has produced NIL software to help athletes and schools navigate the new frontier.

Schoenthal is somewhat optimistic that NIL eventually will be a good thing for college sports, but only if certain steps are taken. I interviewed Schoenthal on The Sports Animal radio network the other day. Here is Schoenthal’s take on NIL, in his own words:

“I got into the Name, Image and Likeness space because while I was a lawyer, I actually coached youth football. While I was the world’s worst coach, I had kids end up at Alabama, Florida State, Miami, LSU. I wanted to make sure that kids were always protected.

“When Name, Image, Likeness was launched in Florida, or least the legislation was announced, about two years before it started, a lot of the players I had coached reached out to me and said, ‘Coach Pete, can we make some money?’ I said, ‘not yet.’ But my first thought became, how are these kids going to file taxes? How are these kids going to remain eligible? How are these kids going to know if they’re getting taken advantage of?

“That’s how we started this company. We realized the best way to impact as many student-athletes as possible was actually sell our software to the university, and that way we could get as many kids as possible on the platform and protect them as we need to.

“From a positive standpoint, I think it’s a no-brainer, in that a student-athlete should have always had the ability to profit off of themselves. Whether it’s someone wants them to come sign autographs at an appearance, if someone wanted to buy their jerseys, if you wanted them to come to a birthday party. All of those little things that have to do with their name. I think It’s only right. So we’re seeing kids start to get creative in that space, using their social media, using their name to promote businesses.

“I think you’re going to start seeing student-athletes, when they go home, have camps and make money that way. Where they might not be a big-time name on their college campus and not have a big following, but back home, they’re a big man or big woman on campus, and people do know them. I think you’re going to see student-athletes give lessons, like if I’m a female tennis player at Oklahoma State, in the off-season, I can now give lessons to a 13-year-old girl to have a better serve. That’s what we’re seeing in the space, and I think that’s awesome.

“The pitfalls are that we are seven months into something new, the legislation isn’t fully flushed, we have states all over the place with different legislations, the NCAA has taken a step back, and when you have different rules that don’t apply uniformly to everyone, you have chaos, and you also have bad actors that come into the space, looking for loopholes, to kind of take advantage of the system.

“What we need right now are one set of rules nationally, that apply to everyone, that also have some bite behind the bark. Because I would argue right now we have a lack of enforcement, and is a crime a crime if there’s no punishment?

“So the space is working from a large level as to what these kids can do, but right now, the pitfalls are kids are getting taken advantage of, but also bad actors coming out and really using this as a way to try to convince kids to come to their school or pay them while they’re at their school so they don’t transfer.

“I don’t see us really getting NIL rules out of the (NCAA) convention (this week). There, this conversion is more to create different constitutions for D(ivision)-I, D-II and D-III. Right now, there’s one set of rules that apply to Division III schools that apply to Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. And obviously, those schools have different needs compared to a D-II and D-II. I think we’re going in the right direction and that will affect NIL.

“I think the NCAA needs to have more stringent rules, but we’re going to need federal legislation. I think that’s what the NCAA is waiting for, and I think that’s because of international students. Right now, international students make up 15 percent of all college athletes. Pretty big chunks. And most, if not all, of international students are here on what’s called an F1 visa. Under the FI visa, international students cannot participate in NIL, because it’s not within the work scope of the permit. So even if the NCAA puts our more legislation, it still will impact only 85 percent of athletes, because the NCAA can’t put out laws that alter or change immigration statuses. In order to have uniform rules for all 100 percent of the athletes, it’s going to have to come from the federal government. And there’s precedent for this. The government has created exceptions and visas for NBA players, NHL players, soccer players. So there is a precedent for it. I think we’re getting closer and closer to federal legislation and the need for it, because of the foreign athletes.

“And then you have also have Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, coming out of the football national championship game, saying we need more legislation. And they were very honest. If there isn’t more legislation, less and less legislation and enforcement, it actually benefits the Alabamas and the Georgias of the world. But those guys actually care about the sport, and they’re saying, look, if you want an even playing field, and you want college athletics to remain, which is a real fear, we need more legislation, and I think we get it.

“The doomsday scenario is 25 or 30 programs, from a football standpoint, that realize it’s just too out of control, too for-profit, and they collectively bargain with a few athletes, we have a minor-league football system which has only 25 or 30 teams, and the rest of college sports decides, ‘we’re going to get rid of our football team.’ And once we start getting rid of football, which is the revenue generator, you’re going to see other sports go away, because schools won’t be able to afford to keep them on. So there’s kind of a trickle-down effect as it pertains to that. The doomsday scenario is, it’s only football and basketball at some limited schools, then we see college sports go away at even the D-II, D-III level and certain D-I schools. Now, that is a very, very down-the-road and extreme possibility. But make no mistake about it, those conversations are already being had, and I’ve have had those conversations with certain universities. There are presidents and chancellors and athletic directors around the country that are really worried that college sports as we know it, 10, 15 years down the line, might not be here.

“The bad actors? It’s a little early to tell. What we’re seeing so far on the surface is, you’re getting boosters coming into the space, creating NIL deals that aren’t really NIL deals. It’s just funneling money to athletes, $50-100-200,000. It’s not to really promote a business, it’s not really within fair market value of what an athlete would get from a Nike or Gatorade or McDonald’s, if they did a national commercial. And it’s starting to look a little more like the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s was with recruiting. Just with a legal take on it. It’s a new way for the bag man to get involved. So this space should be all roses. Name/Image/Likeness was not meant to create a wider gap between schools. It was not meant to induce kids to come to your school. It was not meant to pay kids while they’re at your school. It was meant to allow student-athletes to profit off their names where they can, by doing commercials, by having YouTube channels and podcasts. And being like any other student that had a social media following that could profit. That did happen in the space.

“I’d 95 percent of the space is awesome. And we’re getting great stories, where kids are doing things for charity. Making $1,000, $2,000 a month, or even $100,000 here and there, where you have a million followers. But what we’re seeing is some of these kids that have 15,000 followers, that on the open market from a social media standpoint might get 5-10-15 grand here and there, they’re getting $100,000 for a single post, for companies that were created a week ago, that have no revenue. I hate to use this phrase, but it’s just weird. So I’m not accusing anyone, yet, of wrongdoing, but my momma has a phrase. If it wobbles like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it sure is a duck. And that’s what we’re starting to see.

“I would say 24-48 months (for order to be established). And we’re seven months into it. Whenever you have a new law and new legislation that comes out in any area, it takes time, because laws in general tend to be vague. Because they encompass everything. Then you learn what you can and can’t do, based on people getting in trouble, and that case is litigated, and you get what is called precedent. That’s what has to happen here as well. What the NCAA is doing with some of the inquiries they’ve made of certain schools, like Miami, BYU and Oregon, and they’re learning in the space, and if they do punish anyone, it won’t be the kids. It will be the schools. But I really think the NCAA is going to hopefully smarten up and not go after anyone early on, and just use what we’re seeing in the space to make the rules, so the space works. My mother has another phrase. Don’t rationalize irrational people. And we are talking about the NCAA here.”

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Lakers bench Russell Westbrook; Scotty Brooks did the same in 2011

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting