Frank Vogel got a hell of an introduction to what it’s like to be head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers at his introductory press conference on Monday morning.
Just a few hours before Vogel was slated to be introduced, former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson went on live TV and trashed the inner workings of the organization, mainly pointing the finger at general manager Rob Pelinka for what Johnson perceived as backstabbing, but also at other various members of the organization for trying wield unearned power in areas they weren’t employed in, and even saying multiple times that he thought Tyronn Lue should have been hired over Vogel.
The whole thing was inflammatory enough to hijack the majority of Vogel’s introductory presser, to the point that of the 16 questions asked on Monday before the Lakers cut of Vogel’s podium availability, only seven were directed at Vogel, and just five of them were about his basketball experience and ideas.
Vogel was later asked more about those latter two things during a smaller interview with the local media, and he smiled as he admitted that all the drama was a new experience for him.
“It’s a little different. Different than I expected and different than I’ve ever been a part of, but I understand the line of questioning in light of the events of this morning, so you just roll with the punches,” Vogel told those reporters, although he also said that the Lakers tried to prepare him for what was coming, warning him that this was a different beast than Indiana and Orlando.
“And I understand that,” Vogel said. “I understand the NBA, and I understand the job that you all (in the media) have to do. And like I said about our team, the perception is not always the same as reality. You block out the noise and go to work, and put a product on the floor that you’re proud of.”
As for that product, when Vogel was given the chance to talk about basketball (mostly during his opening statement after Pelinka introduced him), he espoused a refreshingly modern approach to the game that would seemingly imply he learned from where things went wrong for him with the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. And since Vogel was only given so much time to talk about basketball on his first day, I’ll just let him explain for a few grafs here, with as little interruption as necessary.
“I have a strong plan for how we’re going to play as a basketball team. I’m really, really excited about the chance to instill my beliefs about how that’s going to look,” Vogel said. “Offensively, like I’ve said, playing for each other. 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.
“And then defensively, building a defense from the inside out. With all the talk of the 3-point line, it’s still most important to build your defense from inside to out. The basket is still the top priority, the paint is still the top priority, and then we will spread you out and guard the 3-point line,” Vogel continued. “There has been a major evolution in stylistically how I want to play the game, and it’s about the evolution of the league.
“The whole league has changed with the 3-point shot and the amount of switching that occurs, and is necessary to occur on some level. I do believe it’s overdone on some level, but the two years in Orlando, while we were developing the young talent and it was a rebuild situation, it turned it into a little bit of a laboratory for me to figure out this new NBA. Figure out this new world, and what is the exact scheme that needs to go in to be successful in the modern NBA. It was a great learning experience, and I continued that on my sabbatical year this year, visiting teams around the league, having a lot of lengthy discussions about offensively, how to play this style of play and how to transform a scheme. And defensively as well.”
On the radio later, Vogel talked about the types of shots his time away and appreciation for analytics taught him to prioritize, from hunting free throws first, followed by shots at the rim, then corner threes, and finally angled threes, with mid-range jumpers serving as a last — albeit sometimes necessary — resort. That’s just about the ideal, widely agreed upon shot distribution in 2019, and while Vogel’s past would indicate he may need a strong offensive assistant to generate those types of shots, him recognizing the most efficient shot distribution should be taken as a good sign for those who want to see the Lakers succeed.
But while Vogel made it clear he’s learned from his past, Pelinka also offered a reminder that those years weren’t all bad by any means. Pelinka said Vogel’s track record was in large part what led them to move on him so quickly (at least after their first two options flamed out).
“In the sessions that we did with the whiteboard during the interview process, he stood out with his vision for the game, the structure he wants to play with and the way he would use our roster was really, really impressive. He also talks a lot about just structure and accountability, and the things we’re looking for here from our head coach,” Pelinka said. “The other qualities that were so important were the playoff success that he’s had leading the Pacers to five seasons of being in the playoffs, and then taking that Pacers team to the conference championship twice in a row.”
Attaining that level of success is about more than just X’s and O’s as well, and in addition to those, Vogel outlined his other coaching philosophies, specifically how he tries to manage players.
“Every player that’s quite frankly worth a damn wants to be challenged and wants to be pushed, and wants to be coached hard, and wants to be held accountable. That will be the expectation with every player on the roster,” Vogel said. “Now, does that mean we’re going to treat everybody the same? No. You treat everybody fairly, but everybody will be treated differently. That’s just coaching on every (successful) team I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve had that same approach. But the bottom line is they will be pushed, and they will be coached hard, and with the truth.”
Vogel also has a plan to improve the team’s shooting, “both by developing from within and improving the shooters” the Lakers already have.
“There will be a lot of work put into the gym and into training camp and throughout the season. Nobody gets the job done at this level without developing their own players first. Then obviously with free agency and the other moves that Rob can make, we’ll address that to try to add some shooting,” Vogel said.
But beyond shooting, or analytics, or which players the team gets, Vogel also wanted to get across that he thinks there is one driving force that fuels success in the NBA when he’s been around it: “Togetherness.” That’s something he wants to bring to the Lakers, and not just in the locker room. In a day full of questions about past infighting in the front office and the dysfunction that led the Lakers to Monday, Vogel said he wants to bring the Lakers cohesiveness from the top down.
“We need to build togetherness with our organization. I don’t just mean with the 15-17 guys that are going to be in uniform in that locker room. I’m talking about organizational togetherness. Starting with ownership, to the front office, to the coaching staff. The players, the trainers, the business side. We are all going to be pulling in the same direction,” Vogel said. “This is something that I’ve always preached as a head coach, because you can accomplish amazing things if everybody is together. When that happens with the way we do things day-to-day, that stuff translates to the court, and how we play.
“Playing a together brand of basketball will also be emphasized on a daily basis. We’re going to be unselfish, we’re going to play trust in the pass, creating for others with the basketball. Defensively, communicating, talking to each other and covering for each other. Working together. It starts organization-wide, and it translates onto the basketball court,” Vogel continued. “When that happens, you win big. That’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
That’s big talk, and it likely won’t be easy to meet those goals, but even on a day in which his introduction to Lakers fans was overshadowed by continuing fallout from a legend’s exit, Vogel remained optimistic that he can help the Lakers reach the heights he has in mind.
“I think we can accomplish great things and I’m very excited about that. It’s going to start by establishing a culture of hard work, preparedness and structure on the court,” Vogel said. “I look forward to seeing our younger guys grow and everybody come together. The focus for our group has got to be to remain in the moment. There’s obviously been a lot of outside noise, like there is with every NBA team, but there’s been a lot of outside noise that we’re going to be tasked with blocking out.
“There is going to be a lot of talk of getting our team back into the playoffs and what the Lakers represent in terms of a tradition in competing for championships, (but) those are end-result things. We are going to be focused on the work. The day-to-day staying in the moment. How do we get better at practice? How do we win the next game? Focus on the task at hand, and then those accolades, those achievements, those results, they will come.”
If the Lakers can stay as focused on basketball amidst the drama as their new head coach, maybe they’ll prove him right.
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet unless otherwise cited. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.