The first month of the season has worked out far better for Lakers coach Frank Vogel than anyone could have predicted during his dysfunctional hiring process, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Vogel agreed to a three-year contract in May, but he clearly wasn’t the organization’s first choice. The Lakers chased Tyronn Lue, LeBron James‘ former coach in Cleveland, who rejected an offer after it seemed a deal was close. They also pursued Monty Williams, Anthony Davis‘ ex-coach in New Orleans, well before the trade that brought Davis to L.A.
They finally settled on Vogel, but not without some conditions. He had to hire former Nets and Bucks head coach Jason Kidd as an assistant, fueling rumors that Kidd was waiting for his turn to take over once things started to go poorly.
Somehow, Vogel has made the best of the situation and has the Lakers off to a league-best 14-2 start. They have bought into the defense-first reputation that Vogel developed in Indiana, ranking fourth in the league in defensive rating at 102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions and first in blocks with 7.6 per game. Vogel’s approach has helped him gain the respect of his two stars.
“(Those Pacers teams) were always one of our toughest opponents when I was in Miami, when he was at the helm,” James said. “They were always prepared, as well as we were as well in Miami, so I knew that for sure once (general manager) Rob (Pelinka) and everyone upstairs decided to choose him to be our head coach, I knew we would be very prepared.”
James has been an important part of the defensive turnaround, Amick adds. He has played with something to prove this season and his effort on defense has been notably different.
The coaching staff has also developed a rapport that has quashed any talk of a mutiny, at least for now. Amick offers a reminder that former team president Magic Johnson called out coach Luke Walton after seven games last season, and Vogel could have been in the same situation if the team hadn’t been successful right away.
“Some people might be saying (Kidd) is gunning for his job, (but) I see a family approach,” veteran swingman Jared Dudley observed. “I see them laughing. I see Vogel laughing with Kidd and Lionel Hollins. You see how they all have their own role. …Obviously Vogel’s a big defensive guy, (so) you have (him) breaking down the opponents. Phil Handy, going over certain personnel. (You have) Jason Kidd, because of familiarity with certain players. … When he speaks offense you’re more keen. You’d think that would be a little rocky trying to figure people out man, but he’s a player’s coach. He asks for opinions. He said ‘This is what I like to do, what are your guys’ views on it, and eventually he makes a decision.’
“… So for me, I couldn’t even imagine it even getting better. I was just shocked how smooth of a transition it was, not only for the coaching staff but for the coaching staff relating to the players. I think it’s been phenomenal.”