Any coach who has ever or will ever work with LeBron James kind of knows the deal. No matter how much power the head coach actually wields, the perception will always linger that it’s James pulling the strings.
It takes a unique approach to handling such a relationship, and thus far, Frank Vogel is at least saying the right things whenever he’s been given the opportunity — as he was Wednesday night during ESPN’s telecast of the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer league game against the New York Knicks.
In that interview, Vogel said that he plans to collaborate with James this year more so than telling him what to do:
“There’s been a little bit of (back and forth) now, I expect there to be a lot more when we get closer to the season now that our roster is complete. We’re going to sit down and really dive into the details of the plan, and then throughout the season I’ll be relying on him,” Vogel said.
“I’ve always tried to treat my best players as partners, but with LeBron, he’s more of a major shareholder than a business partner,” Vogel said with a smile. “For who he is and as great as his career has been and the mind he has, we’ll be working together quite a bit. I’ll be drawing on his opinion a ton, and we’re all going to do it together.”
We’ve already seen the first example of the dynamic between James and Vogel, when reports surfaced recently claimed that James would be the team’s starting point guard. During this very same interview, Vogel refuted those claims.
Poor Vogel actually thinks this is his decision to make. James’ camp leaking this (probably) was a chess move to get out ahead of any illogical rotations he had to witness under Luke Walton and, quite frankly, it would be a hugely logical choice from the team’s actual head coach.
I Kidd. I Kidd.
In all seriousness, that was what Vogel has to say in that moment. If he does anything other than this, it casts aside any and all doubt that James really is running the show. And as Vogel points out, it isn’t like other superstars around the league don’t offer up their input and have it taken seriously, either. James has more than earned the right to be heard in these instances.
What has to be noted here (and it seems Vogel understands this) is how the coaches who have had the most success with James are the ones who weren’t afraid to, you know, coach. Tyronn Lue and Erik Spoelstra were given the freedom to call James out occasionally and their situations improved as a result of them doing so. Luke Walton probably kowtowed too much to James, and the team seemed to sense it.
Walton is now coaching in Sacramento.
Vogel is going to have to put his foot down from time to time with James, and whether he successfully earns the respect necessary to do so is going to go a long way in deciding how his tenure plays out. He’s already likely fighting an uphill battle due to Jason Kidd’s forced presence on his coaching staff and expectations for this team being sky-high. This could get really awkward, really quickly.
James and Anthony Davis are both better at positions they’d rather not play, by the way.
James is and has been for the last decade a better power forward than he is a small forward. Davis is much more productive as a center than he is as a power forward. Convincing both of them to play the positions that most help the team is going to be Vogel’s first and likely most crucial test. If he is able to earn their respect and get them to do what is best for the team, then he’s likely here to stay.
But if he isn’t, and James, Davis and their camps sit there and wait for Kidd to take over, well, he will. That’s just how these things go, even if Vogel is a far superior coach in just about every way to Kidd. He understands what he got himself into, though, and is at least approaching it in the necessary manner.