The relationship between LeBron James and Frank Vogel seemed doomed to fail from the start. Not only did James have a strong relationship with Tyronn Lue, who the Lakers failed to agree to terms with just a week before they hired Vogel, but he also had a good relationship with Jason Kidd, who the front office insisted on hiring as an assistant regardless of who the head coach was, which even Lue reportedly thought was strange.
There was no reason to believe James and Vogel would have a good working relationship, especially with the track record James had with new coaches — and yet, they do.
In fact, after the Lakers’ 117-107 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, which clinched their spot in the NBA Finals, James praised Vogel for the way he navigated the choppy waters the team found themselves in this season, both on and off the court.
“He’s been great,” James said. “He’s been unbelievable. I mean, we’ve faced, it’s been a crazy obstacle course for our franchise this whole year. I’m not going to sit here and give all the details, but you guys, everyone can go back and just see from the start of the season all the way up until now what we’ve gone through as a team. He’s been able to manage it the whole time. Bringing in guys, losing guys. He’s just always been the anchor, and our coaching staff has been right behind him. I can’t say anything more than that.
“I’m just happy to be on the floor to kind of be his coach on the floor and just command to my teammates the same message that he’s given to me and be an extension of his mind. It’s been great.”
Vogel had hoped to earn James’ vote of confidence when he took the job, but not just for his benefit — for the team’s too.
“It means everything to me,” Vogel said. “Honestly, I’m here to just do the job. I have no ego in this. I just want to play my part and create a plan, put guys in position to be tied together and tie the strings together. He’s been invaluable in terms of earning that buy-in. His support of me has meant everything for our group. To me, that’s the greatest sign of a leader, is one that supports the coach. To have his support means everything to me.”
“It gives me confidence that we can do great things in the next round, which is obviously the ultimate goal, and look forward to doing that.”
James isn’t the only Lakers star that praised Vogel after Saturday’s game. Anthony Davis also talked about his experience with Vogel in their first year together, and the role Vogel’s played in the team’s success this season.
“He’s done a great job with all of us,” Davis said. “He shoots it straight to us. You know, he wants to win. We want to win. He comes to me and ‘Bron with a lot of questions and ideas of — and we give him our opinion on certain things, but we trust him. He comes in and puts the game plan together. He spends hours and hours of watching film and breaking down games and breaking schemes down to try to figure out what’s the best solution for us, what’s the best recipe for us to be successful, and he puts the right players on the floor at the right time ... He trusts us, and that’s the only thing you can ask for in a coach is to trust your players, but at the same time we have to trust him.”
It takes more than two make a thing go right, though, which is why Vogel prioritized getting everyone, from the top on down, on the same page right away — and to the team’s credit, everyone bought in.
“I talked about togetherness from day one,” Vogel said. “My opening press conference when I addressed the media, in my one-on-one meetings with our players, with my coaching staff and obviously aligning with our front office. They have organizational togetherness. It’s just if we are all pulling in the same direction — if you get a group of people pulling in the same direction that has talent, you can accomplish special things. It’s rare and unique to have this many new pieces come together so quickly and have success so early.
“I just credit our whole organization for buying into that and putting us in position to be where we are at now, which is having an opportunity to compete for what we are really looking for.”
Vogel may have not been the Lakers’ first choice, but with the way his players have spoken about him and his ability to lead, it’s clear that he was the right one.