When Frank Vogel spoke to the media before the team’s game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, a few things seemed off. For one thing, the normally perpetually chippy Lakers head coach was uncharacteristically subdued. A 37-point loss over the weekend will sometimes have that effect, but in hindsight, it obviously wasn’t just that leading to Vogel’s sour mood, as word was already spreading inside and outside the organization that Vogel’s job was in real jeopardy with another showing like that weekend’s blowout against Denver.
Multiple insiders definitively reported as much on Tuesday morning: That Vogel is definitively on the hot seat, and that he could have been a goner with another result like Saturday night’s vs. the Nuggets.
Those mounting whispers, rising in volume even before yesterday’s game, had obviously reached Vogel’s ears by his pregame media session on Monday, because there was one other notable change from the normally deferential head coach, sitting out in plain sight for anyone to see. Vogel, normally loathe to give himself and his staff any credit — always deflecting all praise to his players and the front office — made sure to highlight the work he and his staff were doing to turn things around.
“We put in the work everyday. The coaching staff works tirelessly, OK, both in analyzing our postgame, meeting with our players individually, to show them ways that they have to be better, reinforce ways they were great,” Vogel said when asked how the team could sustain any progress they’d been making. “They (the coaching staff) work tirelessly in putting together game-plans.
“We know how to build an elite defense. It hasn’t taken form quite yet with this group, but the work is still being put in, and when you work at something you’re going to improve.”
Asked how difficult the three-game losing streak had been for him personally, Vogel once again highlighted his and his coaching staff’s work.
“Not seeing the results wears on you, I will say that strongly. It’s very difficult to put in as much hours as we put in to get our group playing at a super-high level and to fall short,” Vogel said. “It’s not always going to happen overnight like you want it to, but our process is really good, and we prepare our guys as well as anybody, and we teach and coach hard all the habits that we’re talking about. So you believe in what you do, and if you trust that process, the improvement will come.”
The word choices that stand out even more in hindsight are obvious.
The coaching staff works tirelessly.
Our process is really good.
We know how to build an elite defense. It hasn’t taken form quite yet with this group.
So Vogel obviously knew, even before that game, that he was coaching for his job on Monday night. Maybe he’s known for a while, as The Athletic reported ($$$) that Lakers senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis “relayed the word that they (the coaching staff) were all at risk of being replaced if things did not improve.” Either way, it’s clear in hindsight that Vogel knew his job was on the line, and that the front office is ready to let the players know publicly via multiple leaks that this is in their hands.
Maybe that’s why Vogel started a big lineup again, ready to go down with the ship of his core basketball beliefs about length and verticality if the move didn’t improve the team’s defense. Maybe that’s why he finally started emphasizing that the team’s small lineups had to switch everything defensively rather than funnel drivers towards rim protection that wasn’t there, sacrificing his beloved defensive system at the altar of trying to coach the team he has instead of the group he wishes they were. It’s not Vogel’s fault this roster is flawed, but it is his responsibility to extend outside of his comfort zone to try and make it work at this point.
And with some of those adjustments in tow, for one night at least, the Lakers showed up to play for their embattled head coach. And the normally understated Vogel came as close as he ever will to saying “this isn’t my fault” and pointing the finger elsewhere during a dour pregame session with reporters. So wherever things ultimately head from here, at least everything is out in the open now, and everyone knows where everyone else stands. Vogel clearly hasn’t resigned himself to being scapegoated, but he’s also quite obviously feeling the pressure, defending himself and his staff, and maybe, just maybe, starting to make the changes he may need to make to survive.