The Los Angeles Lakers can be viewed through two possible lenses as we approach a pivotal 2019 free agency period.
On one hand, the team has LeBron James, a promising young core, a No. 4 pick that can be used as trade ballast and max cap space to lure a superstar free agent. On the other hand, there is the raging inferno of dysfunction that has engulfed the organization like King’s Landing at the end of the penultimate episode of “Game of Thrones,” with each new report serving as another proverbial fire blast from Drogon, to the point that it reportedly has people around James worried it could affect his ability to land another star.
Which situation the Lakers are actually viewed as by top free agents won’t be known for certain until this summer, but we do know that to the extent he is able, new head coach Frank Vogel is willing to help the team in their pursuit of players to add around James, and he explained why to Doug Gottlieb during his appearance on “The Doug Gottlieb Show” on Tuesday:
“As involved as they need me to be, quite frankly,” Vogel said when asked how involved he’d be in pitching free agents. “There has got to be a strong plan in place from our front office, which there is, and wherever I can help, I’m going to get involved as much as I can, because we’re going to coach our tails off. And all 30 teams and their coaches are talking about coaching their tails off, but much of the battle is won on July 1, with how teams are put together, and obviously that’s going to be an important time for our franchise, and really for the whole league.”
None of what Vogel said is wrong. The easiest thing for viewers of a basketball game to pick apart is coaching, because it’s a job that on its face looks like anyone could do, but so much of a coach’s fate is actually determined by the roster their front office put together — something the Lakers found out the hard way last season.
Now, how much Vogel can actually help in recruiting such players is a different question, something it appears he even knows based on his fairly tentative answer above. Can the Lakers really bring the head coach that anyone with a working internet connection knows was their third choice into a pitch meeting with stars and sell them on his vision? They’ll have to, and there are a few reasons for optimism that it could work, too.
For one thing, Vogel comes across as a sharp basketball mind who also knows what he doesn’t know. His candor, honesty and preparation does have a chance to appeal to free agents, he (and the Lakers) are just also going to have to have an answer for them on how Vogel ended up here. It will also be necessary to show that James has bought into Vogel, something that there seems to be at least some degree of reason to hope is the case.
If James can enter that type of hypothetical meeting and sell a star on being the final piece of the puzzle to make this team a contender, and the front office can outline what they’ve learned from their roster-building foibles of the last year while Vogel explains how he’ll tie all of that together on the court, the Lakers just might have the outlines of a coherent pitch to free agents. That doesn’t mean they’ll get someone, because the market will be incredibly competitive, but it might be their best basketball case to make.
Can they demonstrate the genuine cohesiveness necessary to sell that vision? We don’t know, but given that this front office will likely show the coach they hired more support than their last one, and that James has every incentive to make things work with Vogel so as not to waste his last few years of effective basketball, the team would seem to be on the right track. Again, that may not result in another star signing, but after how ugly the last few weeks have been, all the Lakers can ask for is a chance. Offering a vision of alignment from the front office, to Vogel, to James is probably their best one.