Frank Vogel's Decison to Take the Lakers Job Comes With a Cost
In a vacuum, the Lakers decision to hire Frank Vogel is a good one. Vogel is more the coach that oversaw Indiana’s rise to conference contender in 5 ½ years than the one who spent two seasons with the sputtering Magic. He has no history with LeBron James but he was chief strategist for the Eastern Conference team that gave James the most difficulty during his four years in Miami, which should earn him some respect.
But this isn’t a vacuum, this is Los Angeles, where the complexity of the situation and the forces that could be working against Vogel from Day 1 could rise to a Lannister-like level.
Take Jason Kidd, the ex-Nets and Bucks coach who the Lakers liked, really liked but didn’t like quite enough to offer Kidd the head coaching job. Kidd has been attached to this coaching job for weeks, and while we’ll never know if Ty Lue would have accepted Kidd on his staff—Lue rejected the Lakers offer before it got that far—Vogel was willing to. In theory, Kidd makes some sense. He’s respected by James, an ex-teammate with USA Basketball. He did a credible job developing Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, emphasizing his playmaking early in his career. The Lakers have a talented, 6-6 point guard with a weak jump shot. Kidd once fit that description.
But Kidd is also the coach who tried to make a power play on his GM in Brooklyn, Billy King. Who orchestrated his move from the Nets to the Bucks—and tried to take Brook Lopez with him. Who all but campaigned for the Lakers job while Luke Walton still held it.
Doesn’t this already have a David Blatt/Lue feel to it? Kidd is already being pegged as the coach-in-waiting, and how is Kidd going to respond to taking marching orders from Vogel, a man with zero playing experience, who was in the video room while Kidd was making All-Star teams? This will be a storyline early and the drumbeats for Kidd to take over will only get louder when the Lakers inevitably skid.
And why shouldn’t they? Vogel’s hiring isn’t even official and it’s already unclear who in the organization will backstop him. Vogel was, at best, the Lakers third choice, with Monty Williams deciding the Suns were a more stable organization (think about that sentence) before the Lakers could make an offer and Lue, who was insulted by the one they did. Rob Pelinka is nominally in charge, but ex-Laker Kurt Rambis and his wife, Linda, have taken on leading roles in the post-Magic Johnson front office, Buss has her say and Johnson himself inexplicably still reportedly offers his opinions in between firing off scalding hot Twitter takes.
Who will protect Vogel when the rumblings about his job security start? Who will have his back if there is a Kidd-fueled coup d'état, like what nearly happened in Brooklyn, only this time one with LeBron James’s support?
The Lakers hired Vogel, and to make it work everyone in the front office—from Buss on down—needs to back him. Vogel has credentials. In 2011, he took over a floundering Pacers team and pushed it into the playoffs. They advanced to the second round the following season and made the conference finals in the next two. Paul George’s leg injury stalled Indiana’s rise in 2014 and the Pacers elected not to offer Vogel a new contract in 2016.
Orlando was a mess, and while Vogel deserves his share of the blame, he inherited a young, poorly constructed roster and then saw ownership wipe out the front office after his first year on the job. Vogel spent his second year effectively a lame duck—and everyone in the organization knew it.
The Lakers job is a challenging one, and we don’t even know if the roster as it stands today will be the one that opens training camp. The Lakers have the cap room to make a run at a top tier free agent, and while Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving seem unlikely (for various reasons) don’t dismiss the possibility that LA will splurge on DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler, if only to satisfy LeBron’s desire for a competitive roster. The Lakers will also likely make another run at Anthony Davis and see if new Pelicans boss David Griffin is more amenable to LA’s offers than Dell Demps was.
The deck is stacked against Vogel, and all LA’s brass can do is offer him its full throated support. That includes to James, who has not been shy about trying to tip the coaching scales in his career. It’s no coincidence that some of James’s best years came in Miami, where he was the player, Erik Spoelstra was the coach and Pat Riley wasn’t interested in any conversation about changing that dynamic. Vogel has a track record for developing young players, as George will attest. He understands how to handle fragile egos, as Roy Hibbert can explain. And he knows how to win, because in two of the three years Indiana lost to Miami in the playoffs, no one else beat the Heat, either.
Vogel wasn’t the first choice, but he could be the right one with enough support. We’ll know quickly if he has it, if the Lakers are a team ready to turn a corner or if last season’s soap opera is back for another year.