When the Los Angeles Lakers made Jason Kidd the highest-paid assistant coach in the NBA shortly after hiring Frank Vogel as head coach, the writing seemed to be on the wall. A sort of tacit acknowledgement by the front office that okay, we hired Vogel, but if he gets off to a rough start, well...
But the Lakers haven’t gotten off to a rough start. In fact, they’ve thrived under Vogel (and Kidd) thus far, jumping out to a league-best 24-4 record heading into their much-hyped showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. And while that may have made it essentially impossible for Kidd to engage in the sort of coup attempts he became so known for at prior stops, Vogel says that such actions couldn’t be further from Kidd’s intentions, anyway.
In fact, Vogel told Bill Oram of The Athletic that while there were so many rumors about Kidd trying to take his job that they’ve actually, well, kidded each other about it, he and Kidd have also continued to develop the sort of strong relationship the Lakers surely hoped they would when pairing the two men together:
When the Lakers bestowed Kidd unto Vogel back in May, Kidd’s presence on the bench seemed like a logical source of controversy.
We were promised intrigue! A palace coup! Backstabbing!
Where’s the backstabbing?
“We’ve joked about it,” a chuckling Vogel told The Athletic on Tuesday night. “There’s a healthy respect and trust. That has really, from Day 1 been a non-issue.”
And when Vogel says “from Day 1,” he’s really not engaging in the sort of hyperbolic praise that has quickly come to define the way he talks to the media about his team. Literally, from before the Lakers even had their first day of camp, Vogel has been telling anyone who would listen that he was “comfortable” with Kidd and thrilled to have him on staff. That their relationship is “a 10 out of 10.”
Now, there was a tendency to dismiss that sort of thing as the optimism that encompasses every team in the offseason, when every organization is undefeated and hope runs rampant. Plus, every relationship has to have effort put in from both sides, but to his credit, Kidd has said similarly excited things about working with Vogel.
While Kidd has not spoken to the media much, if at all, this season — the Lakers very seldomly make assistant coaches available to the press — he did give a rare interview in August to ESPN, in which he outlined why he was so excited to work with Vogel. It’s worth revisiting now:
“When you talk about Frank Vogel, he’s a great human being, great coach, and I’m just lucky to have the opportunity to learn under him. To be able to help him when he asks for help from my past experience as a head coach, but also just as an older player, to be able to help him understand some of the things that those guys are going through.”
Now, back in August it was easy to view those as simple platitudes, but when Vogel spoke with Oram — in a story that’s really worth reading in its entirety if you have an Athletic subscription — he alluded to the fact that Kidd has genuinely taken a learning mindset, and acknowledged that he likely skipped steps on his way to his first head coaching job.
Kidd has by all accounts embraced the monotony that can sometimes come with assistant coaching tasks, and has seemingly displayed nothing but gratitude and a collaborative nature towards the man who was willing to bring him onto his staff despite all the coup rumors both men knew would follow:
“We’ve worked hard from the beginning to make sure we were establishing not only a working relationship together but a friendship, which has been fantastic and a real bright spot to my season,” Vogel said. “And I think we’re both, just both in a great place with what we’re trying to accomplish as a tandem and as a coaching staff here.”
Vogel said Kidd’s influence has been felt most in late-game offensive execution: “Just making sure when we have a lead and not settling that we’re continuing to really push through.”
It’s funny Vogel says that last part, because “pushing through” could also describe how he and Kidd had to approach a relationship that was always going to lead to tons of rumors about both of their actions if the Lakers struggled. That hasn’t happened yet, but such success might be fair to in part trace back to both Kidd and Vogel being proactive in making sure they bonded, presenting a united front to the team that was almost assuredly easier for players to get behind than an alternative environment filled with rumors of Kidd looking to take Vogel’s seat.
They both deserve ample credit for exceeding expectations, and proving so many of us — hand up, myself included — wrong about their what their dynamic would be so far. Yet another pleasant development in easily the most enjoyable Lakers season in recent memory.