Given how well the Frank Vogel era has gone so far in Los Angeles, it’s wild to think about how close the Lakers were to hiring Tyronn Lue instead.
That scenario may feel more farfetched in retrospect than it actually was, but in case you forgot, it was a very real possibility. There were multiple reports that Lue was already ironing out and finalizing a contract to take over the Lakers, and that Vogel would join his staff as lead assistant. Instead, Lue was reportedly “insulted” by the Lakers’ salary offer and their insistence on picking his assistants, and talks fell apart.
The rest is history. The Lakers moved forward with Vogel, built one of the best defenses the NBA has ever seen and won a championship in his first year at the helm. After that much success, it’s truly crazy to think that it all could have fallen apart had Lue not given Vogel his blessing to take the job.
Thankfully for the Lakers, Lue did so after Vogel sought his input, according to a thorough and fascinating tick-tock looking back at the whole saga from Bill Oram and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:
Hours earlier, Lue had turned down the job offer from the Lakers that most everyone assumed he would accept. And now, in the chaotic, second week of May 2019, the Lakers were scrambling. They moved their attention to Vogel, who previously had an agreement to become a top assistant on Lue’s Lakers staff. The top job could be his.
But he wouldn’t go for it without Lue’s blessing.
“Someone is going to take the job,” Lue said to Vogel, according to a source familiar with the call. “Why not you?”
Why did Vogel feel like he had to ask Lue? Well, aside from coaches being a fraternity and the fact that Lue had almost hired him, there was one more connection, per Oram and Vardon:
In any negotiation, each side has its starting point. Lue, believing he could get to a better place on the details with the Lakers, began work on a compromise for his staff. He didn’t know Vogel well but admired his work as coach of the Indiana Pacers, where Vogel’s lead assistant had been Lue’s former teammate and close friend, Brian Shaw.
Lue and Vogel are also represented by the same CSE sports agency, and at CSE’s urging, Lue interviewed Vogel for a top spot on his bench. The two hit it off, and both were prepared to work together in Los Angeles.
That obviously didn’t happen, however, even if it is a fascinating “What If?” scenario to think about. How different would the Lakers have looked with Lue leading the team and Vogel as his top defensive mastermind? Would they still have won the title? Would they have played any differently on either side of the ball, made the same additions in free agency, used a different rotation, or developed the same egoless culture of accountability in which everyone accepted their role in one of the most chemistry-laden locker rooms the league has ever seen? We have no idea, on any front.
Obviously the Lakers wouldn’t change the way things went, given that they and Vogel will raise a banner as Lue watches from the Clippers’ sidelines tonight, though. This just illustrates how fluid and hectic all of these hiring processes are, and how many things have to break right — even if they seem wrong at the time — for a team to end up where they want to go.
All that said, we’ll never know the full details of everything that happened that led to this outcome — even if Oram and Vardon gave us as exhaustive of an account as we’ve seen, including more reporting on the long-rumored whispers about whether or not Kurt Rambis tried to get himself onto Lue’s coaching staff — but now that it didn’t happen, it doesn’t matter anyway. The Lakers clearly made the right call in the aftermath of Lue’s move, and even if it’s unlikely the organization feels a whole lot of gratitude for him after the way things fell apart, he at least deserves some credit for not taking it personally enough to make Vogel think twice about taking on the opportunity.
The rest is history, and the Lakers will commemorate it with a banner tonight. Lue won’t get a ring, but maybe Vogel can send him a Thank You card. Or at least give him another phone call.