Though the Lakers still sit at .500 on the season through the first 22 games, head coach Frank Vogel’s job does not yet appear to be on the line.
Over the weekend, a pair of reports suggested Vogel’s seat may be warming up. However, neither report came from within the Lakers, one from Sam Amick of The Athletic citing “coaching circles and the coaching agent world” and another from longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein citing “coaching circles” as well.
That neither rumor came directly from a Lakers front office that far more leaky than Mitch Kupchak’s regimes in year’s past is noteworthy, as is the reality of LeBron James playing in only half of those games due to injury and suspension paired with the host of role players that have also been sidelined. And all that doesn’t even take into account the more natural and expected challenges Vogel would have blending a roster not just of new faces, but of a ball-dominant star in Russell Westbrook. While the Lakers’ start has certainly not been smooth sailing, there have been enough viable excuses for Vogel and the team’s slow opening to the year.
On Tuesday’s episode of “The Lowe Post” podcast with Zach Lowe, Dave McMenamin of ESPN — probably the most plugged-in reporter on the Lakers beat — joined to talk a myriad of topics, including the job security of Vogel, and why he thinks hot seat rumors have surfaced. While he didn’t explicitly report any update on Vogel’s job security, his informed analysis is still notable considering how often he breaks stories about this team:
“I think the best way to look at is anyone who has been around the league for even a couple seasons recognizes that any coaches getting a one-year extension, that is a sign of not full confidence (in them) in the organization. So that starts the conversation before the season even began.
“Now, you add in the fact that the Lakers added a former head coach in David Fizdale to the staff in the offseason so they have someone theoretically with head coaching experience should Frank be relieved, you add a little bit more fuel to the fire... The things that you would point to as to why they would stick this out, beyond just loyalty to Frank Vogel because, what, 14 months ago they won a championship.”
So much has transpired over the last year-plus not just in the NBA but in the world as a whole that it’s often not hard to forget that the Lakers did win a title in the bubble with Vogel at the helm.
But as McMenamin notes, the team has made a number of moves that indicate they don’t have full faith in Vogel and could be setting up for the future, whether it was the one-year extension to only ostensibly make Vogel a non-lame duck coach or bringing David Fizdale — a coach who has long had a solid relationship with James — onto the staff.
Perhaps another underlying factor in the team not putting Vogel on the hot seat, though, could be traced back to the offseason, and their “attempt” at re-signing Alex Caruso. Money has been a factor for the Lakers both in recent decisions (Caruso) as well as in decisions dating back even to their initial pursuit of Ty Lue as head coach in 2019, as McMenamin noted (emphasis mine):
“But from the negotiations with Tyronn Lue (Editor’s Note: Lue reportedly felt “insulted” by the team’s initial contract offer) to however they decided to deal with Alex Caruso, there have been several examples over the last couple years where the Lakers, their decision-making was determined in large degree by their wallet. And I’m not so sure they’d want to make the financial commitment to do something like that (fire their coach) midseason. Maybe when the season is over they reassess.”
That aspect of firing a coach that is often the afterthought is what to do once they’re gone, but the Lakers would have to pay Vogel the remainder of his salary, whether he’s coaching the team or not. For an ownership group that is notoriously cash-poor compared to their peers, paying two coaches after several pandemic-affected seasons have slashed revenue may be a non-starter.
And as mentioned, Fizdale is on staff for the Lakers, but the manner in which his last two stints as head coach ended hardly provides cause for optimism for what would happen if he took over. If the Lakers aren’t convinced he — or Phil Handy — can steer them to better results, there isn’t a slam dunk option available on the open market, as our own Christian Rivas recently noted (as did McMenamin in his podcast appearance, emphasis mine):
“But if there was the candidate out there, like if this was the Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Kobe (Bryant) and Pau (Gasol) Lakers and Phil Jackson had just retired from coaching 18 months prior and you had someone like that looming over the organization, still in the city, still with familiarity with the roster, then yeah I could see this organization having more legs. But right now, I think it’s a lot of people who know the industry talking about it talking about because there is an expectation for this team to win and Frank Vogel didn’t get that true vote of confidence with the extension, but on the other side, what’s the solution? Who is the guy? I don’t see it.”
It all adds up to a team that isn’t ready to make the necessary commitment to firing Vogel as coach, and one that likely doesn’t even feel it’s a move that needs to be made yet. As was the case with the Heat in 2010-11 and the Cavs in 2014-15, the Lakers are off to a slow start as they look to acclimate James with a new superstar. That process has been further slowed by his injuries, but the signs are there that the Lakers are turning things around.
For now, all of it means Vogel’s job is secure. The Lakers can’t be mediocre the whole season, and will certainly expect an uptick in wins soon. But the extenuating factors of this season and the current state of the franchise means the team isn’t looking to move on from Vogel.