As the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated after winning the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel got to make a few memories he’ll always cherish. At the top of the list was his family being allowed into the bubble to see him for the first time in months. His two daughters sprinted down the bridges of the restaurant the Lakers were partying at and embraced their dad in a running hug.
But right after that, as Vogel revealed during an appearance on “The Lowe Post” podcast, were two special moments he shared with Lakers guards Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Both veterans were hardly fan favorites at the beginning of the Lakers’ season, but Vogel never lost faith in them. Even when Rondo and Caldwell-Pope struggled in their playoff debuts, he didn’t waver in his belief.
They rewarded Vogel for his votes of confidence in them by becoming two of the team’s most integral role players as they pursued a title, and when it was all over, they wanted to thank their coach for his unshakeable conviction that they’d pull through:
“He (Rondo) just took a moment to thank me for believing in him. To me, that’s one of the best moments as a coach, when you show confidence or belief in someone — and KCP and I had a similar conversation, because he was being highly criticized early in the season. So when you show confidence and belief in someone and they reward you with their play, and it ends up in this situation leading to a championship, that’s just special and something I’ll never forget. Above all else, that’s what you do this job for. For those types of moments.”
Obviously everyone here wants the Lakers to win. But what a lot of the yelling about rotations, and who was playing well game to game — on this blog included — missed this year was the human element in all this. The Lakers tried to win every regular season game to a degree, but they were also trying to get the guys they knew they’d need for the playoffs ready.
Did that sometimes mean that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a cold shooting night, as he seems to be prone to when starting a new season, both in the bubble and of the regular variety? Yes. Did that mean that Rondo was frustrating to watch as he didn’t expend full effort on defense and kind of messed around on offense while trying things? Also yes. But it seems clear in hindsight that the reason Vogel didn’t bench those guys — especially Caldwell-Pope — is that doing so could have killed their confidence, and he knew he’d need both players if the Lakers were going to live up to their full potential.
Because Vogel never wavered in his belief in both Rondo and Caldwell-Pope, both were able to reach their ceilings when the Lakers needed them most, with both guards having especially strong performances as the Lakers clinched their title. Vogel would have earned (warranted) criticism had they not come through, but taking that risk and going with your gut is part of what being a coach is all about. It worked, and Vogel, Rondo and Caldwell-Pope all deserve credit.
And while this isn’t the role always assigned as highly to a professional coach of grown men, one element of coaching is building up your own guys, and helping them grow and improve. It seems Vogel took satisfaction in the fruits of his labor, and this whole situation will be worth remembering when analyzing the Lakers’ play next season. Obviously the team should be judged on how much it’s winning, but Vogel deserves some benefit of the doubt now when trying things, even if they’re not working. We’ve seen now how doing so can pay off down the line, even if it can be frustrating in real time.