“We need to build togetherness with our organization,” new Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel told reporters at his introductory news conference on Tuesday.
“I’m talking about organizational togetherness, starting with ownership to the front office, to the coaching staff, the players, the trainers, the business side.”
In case you haven’t followed the NBA this season, the Lakers displayed no such “togetherness” during a highly publicized Year 1 of the LeBron James era.
A quick refresher:
- The usually healthy James battled injuries throughout the season,
- attempted to make backchannel deals for Anthony Davis at the trade deadline, and
- eventually shut himself down for the season not too long after claiming to have activated “playoff mode” while his team still had a chance to make the postseason.
Speaking of LeBron, Vogel had many battles with James as an opposing coach when LBJ was in Miami.
Vogel’s Pacers met James’ Heat three times in the postseason and although Miami came out on top each time, Indiana gave James serious problems. The Pacers took the Heat to 6, 7 and 6 games in the three matchups, respectively. Now, Vogel will be pushing James and his teammates in practice.
“Our guys are going to be coached very hard. They’re going to be challenged.” Vogel told reporters. “We are going to be focused on the work.”
The next steps for Vogel and James will be to achieve synergy on the court while the front office continues to find its footing. Magic Johnson stepped down abruptly near the end of the season, creating an opening for the team’s president of basketball operations job. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, who Johnson accused of “backstabbing” on ESPN’s First Take, will be the primary decision maker in the new structure as Johnson’s position will be eliminated entirely.
“I have talked to him several times since he decided to step away, these things are surprising to hear,” Pelinka revealed to reporters when asked about Johnson’s comments. “I’ve always supported everything he’s done and will continue to.”
As for the hire itself, the Lakers might’ve accidentally stumbled into a great coach.
After failing to reach a deal with Tyronn Lue, Los Angeles settled on the proven Vogel. His track record in Indiana speaks for itself, but it’s Vogel’s tenure in Orlando that might have some LA fans wondering how the coach will adapt to a changing NBA.
“There has been a major evolution in, stylistically, how I want to play the game and it’s about the evolution of the league,” Vogel responded when asked about his time with the Magic. “It was a great learning experience.”
He stressed the importance of using analytics in the game, something many around the league feel like the Lakers have ignored entirely.
“I got a strong plan about how we’re going to play,” Vogel said. “Having an analytics-based approach to playing the game outside in, using the 3-point line and the space that creates to open up a really strong, basket-attacking team.”
The Lakers finished 17th in the league in 3-point attempts per game and 29th in 3-point percentage, a product of not having enough shooting around James, Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo. As for being a strong team attacking the basket, Vogel might be on to something.
|Lakers’ Splits (via NBA.com)||Drive Attempts||League Rank||FG %||League Rank||%Fouls||League Rank|
LA’s roster wasn’t constructed well enough for players to effectively space, but the team did well driving to the basket, as the Lakers were efficient in their attempts and drew fouls at an above-average rate on drives. If Vogel can continue to open up lanes for players like Ball, James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers should see these numbers increase across the board. Add in better shooting and LA will have an improved offense from last season.
On the other side of the ball, Vogel’s defensive chops should help improve a strong unit that took a hit due to injuries — specifically Ball’s.
|Lakers’ Defensive Splits (via NBA.com)||Opponent Points Per Game||League Rank||Defensive Rank||League Rank|
|Before Lonzo Ball’s Injury (47 games)||111.4||16th||106.3||7th|
|After Lonzo Ball’s Injury (35 games)||116.3||25th||112.4||22nd|
The on-court product, if good enough, could take some scrutiny away from a franchise in disarray.
Johnson’s sudden departure created a void between owner Jeanie Buss, former head coach Luke Walton and Pelinka. According to Johnson, his inability to make decisions without others interfering eventually forced him to resign. Reports say that non-basketball operations personnel, like Tim Harris and Linda Rambis, have been influential in basketball decisions due to their close relationship with Buss.
The Lakers also pushed for Vogel to hire Jason Kidd as an assistant coach, something Lue reportedly did not want to do. Most coaches don’t get pressurized into hiring certain assistant coaches, especially ones who have a reputation like Kidd’s, but the Lakers clearly felt strongly about his coaching ability.
“They [the Lakers] asked if I’d be open to suggestions about who would be on my staff,” Vogel told reporters. “I would expect it, I would hope that there would be collaboration.”
“The goal was to find a respected player with coaching experience that can help strengthen my message,” Vogel said of his conversation with Kidd. “[I] came away feeling like he’s going to be an incredible asset to our program.”
Vogel said he was not concerned about Kidd potentially being a “head coach in waiting.”
Despite the concerns of a dysfunctional front office, the Lakers are set up well for a quick turnaround. Pelinka made note of this in his opening remarks at the news conference.
“We have the world’s best player on our team, we acquired the No. 4 pick in the June draft, we have the cap flexibility to continue to finish out this roster that we’ve been building over the last couple years,” said Pelinka.
And despite the chaos spewing from LA’s front office, it will be up to Vogel to see the Lakers’ rebuild through.