There’s a running joke that the Lakers prefer to hire people into their organization who have Laker blood. It’s part of the reason why Tyronn Lue, who played the first three years of his career in purple and gold, was a head coaching target this offseason.
When Frank Vogel eventually got the job, it was pointed out that Vogel served as a scout from the Lakers in the 2005-06 season so he has a sprinkling of Laker blood within him. But the next best thing to being a Laker lifer is emulating the style of Laker greats, and that’s something Vogel has done in spades.
Phil Jackson is perhaps the greatest coach in franchise history, his five titles tying him with John Kundla for most on the Lakers bench. Even though Vogel never played for or directly worked under Jackson — he never even coached against him — the former Laker head coach has been a model for the way Vogel coaches, as he told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
“I’ve always studied and admired his approach,” Vogel said. “I consider him the GOAT of NBA coaches.”
Jackson’s record is unimpeachable. He won the most titles as an NBA head coach (11) despite only ever earning one Coach of the Year award, and has been widely praised for his handling of superstars throughout his career. Jackson’s last season with the Chicago Bulls has come into clearer focus with “The Last Dance”, giving his reputation something of a renaissance within league circles.
His path through the CBA and National Superior Basketball, the Puerto Rican league, which was delightfully documented in the documentary’s most recent episodes, also gives Jackson a more well-rounded perspective on coaching than just about anyone in the profession.
Vogel never had a personal relationship with Jackson, so he learned the Zen Master’s tricks from Brian Shaw, who was an assistant coach with the Lakers under Jackson for six seasons.
Vogel had looked up to Jackson for years and had even hired Shaw — one of Jackson’s top assistants with the Lakers — on his staff with the Indiana Pacers.
“Literally, for those two years that I had Brian,” Vogel said, “every decision that came up, I was like, ‘How’d you guys do it in L.A.? What would Phil do here? How did Phil travel with the team? Did he allow people’s guests to come on a plane? What was his morning shootaround routine?’”
The Pacers improved significantly during Vogel’s tenure before Paul George’s leg injury with USA Basketball derailed the team’s trajectory. George has credited Vogel and Shaw for aiding in his development into a star, and it’s quite possible that Vogel was using Jackson’s playbook to get him to that point.
If Vogel is even half as successful with the Lakers as Jackson was, it will have been a dream signing for the franchise. It can only help that Vogel is learning from the best as he leads this current team.