Sitting at just .500 through the first 24 games of the season, the spotlight has grown mighty bright on the Lakers and, specifically, head coach Frank Vogel. As is the nature of being a head coach in any professional league, much of the blame and little of the credit — fair or foul — falls at the feet of the head coach.
For the Lakers, Vogel has been criticized despite a distinct lack of available options throughout much of the opening quarter of the regular season due to injury. At the same time, he has not remained blameless with an insistence of playing multiple big men has drawn criticism, if perhaps a bit too much at times, this season.
All this has transpired with LeBron James, one of the most powerful players in the league, looming in the background. Capable of changing public opinion positively or negatively, James’ words carry weight, especially when it comes to his head coach.
For the first time this season, James was asked on Monday after the Lakers practice about the criticism lobbed Vogel’s way this season, whether it’s fair or foul and to evaluate how his coach had done so far this season. It was a question reserved for a player of James’ stature, of which there are few of in the league, and one that James answered in a uniquely LeBron type of way...by basically not answering it.
“I think criticism comes with the job,” James said. “Frank is a strong-minded guy. He has a great coaching staff. We as players have to do a better job of going out and producing on the floor. We’re a team and an organization that don’t mind some adversity, that don’t mind people saying things about us, obviously, because it comes with the territory. We have a lot of guys on this team that’s been bulletin board material for quite a long time. It don’t quite bother us. Everything that we do stays in-house when comes to our preparation and how we prepare for our next opponent and how we prepare to get better. Frank doesn’t care and we don’t either about what people are saying.”
If you’re searching for a vote of confidence, or a vote of non-confidence, or a vote of anything, you’ll have to keep searching. Fully aware of the weight of his words, James’ decision to not directly answer the question was as intentional as it is noteworthy.
His answer, on its own, is a fair one, though. Criticism is the nature of the job when coaching an NBA team and when playing for the Lakers. And the Lakers have made a habit of internalizing many things throughout the Vogel-James era.
When asked about it himself, Vogel spoke about the criticism of coaching in Los Angeles relative to his previous stops in Indiana and Orlando, saying it isn’t any worse in Los Angeles, just on a bigger stage.
“Not really,” Vogel said. “There’s going to be criticism with this job. That’s something that we’re all accustomed to. I’ve been a head coach for 10 years. I’ve seen it all. Is it more national? Yes, it’s more national. Is there a bigger fanbase in this market in LA? Yes there is. But it’s been there for every head coach and something I’m not unfamiliar with. Just comes with the job.”
Nothing James or Vogel said on Monday will stem the tide on the criticism aimed the latter’s way. Realistically, the most likely way for the spotlight to dim is for the Lakers to win games.
But James’ not outright backing Vogel, dancing around the question instead only a couple of days removed from praising Ty Lue’s late-game adjustments in the Clippers-Lakers game on Friday, isn’t nothing. On the court, there haven’t been any signs of James mailing it in to get Vogel fired, which he has done in the past and typically serves as the final nail in the coffin. And while James’ quote on Monday did group him with Vogel and the rest of the team and franchise, it’s what he didn’t say that might be the biggest thing to monitor moving forward.