When Frank Vogel walked out onto the court at the UCLA Health Training Center last Tuesday, the first day he had been allowed to observe his players practicing in months, he was filled with familiar feelings, ones he had felt often this year. Waves of “excitement and confidence” washed over him as he saw LeBron James and Anthony Davis go through individual workouts, reminding him of just how special his two stars (and team) are.
“Watching them work and seeing what they’re capable of doing, and thinking back on where we were at, it gives me a great deal of confidence in what we’re about to endure,” Vogel said.
Part of that might just have been the visual, in-person reminder of how good his two stars are. Part of it could be that Davis feels 100% healthy for basically the first time all season, and thinks the Lakers have a better chance at a title than they did when the NBA shut down as a result.
LeBron and AD were back in the lab today. The Lakers sent us some footage: pic.twitter.com/BZJ3738l1h— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) July 2, 2020
But Vogel also knows that having arguably the best duo of stars in the NBA doesn’t mean his work as a coach is done. Far from it. Going into Orlando, Vogel wants to play his entire roster, so that everyone — from his team’s two-way players to their promising new additions — is as ready as possible to contribute if they’re needed. And just because the long layoff is going to lead to some ugly basketball down at Disney World doesn’t mean that Vogel is satisfied with winning ugly.
“I’m known as a defensive coach, and a lot of defensive coaches take pride in winning ugly. I personally don’t. I like to dominate,” Vogel said, punctuating that last part with a laugh. “I like to have our defense be tenacious and make their offense look ugly, but I like our offense to be a fine-tuned machine. So I don’t really like the phrase that I like winning ugly, but there will be an element of that league-wide with all the circumstances going into this finish.”
He’s right. The entire league hasn’t played NBA basketball in months, and no amount of secret pickup games his players have allegedly played in is going to fully allow any team to avoid some signs of rust. There will be sloppy turnovers, and games where neither team can hit the broad side of the barn as they get their legs back. So even if Vogel doesn’t want to win ugly, he’ll take ugly basketball, as long as it comes in a win.
“This is gonna be an imperfect way to go into the playoffs and play playoff basketball. But the whole league is dealing with the same set of rules, and there is gonna be an element of we’ve got to gut some things out. And if that means winning ugly, we’ve got to win ugly,” Vogel said.
As long as it results in a title, even a film-addicted perfectionist like Vogel won’t be able to complain about that.