Despite becoming the first Lakers head coach since Phil Jackson to reach and win an NBA championship, Frank Vogel’s days in that role appear to be numbered. Vogel’s trademark defense-first style has always been an awkward fit with this very flawed current roster, but as the 2021-22 season has worn on, it’s become obvious that he’s lost the ability to motivate his roster full of veteran former All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers, most of whom are past their prime.
Vogel was reportedly on the brink of getting fired in mid-January, but the Lakers ultimately opted against jettisoning him as the team’s play improved slightly later that month, and Anthony Davis had his best stretch of the season in his return from a knee injury before getting hurt again in February.
But now the Lakers are in freefall, losers of seven of their last eight and slipping fast in the race for a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament — a far cry from the championship expectations that many had for this team coming into the season. Once again, there’s an argument to be made that the Lakers’ best move to salvage anything left from this awful year is to fire Vogel and hope that type of coaching change somehow reinvigorates the team.
But the Lakers themselves don’t seem to buy into that argument, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski during a Friday appearance on The NBA Today (h/t @DribbleCity on Twitter):
“Two primary reasons [why Vogel hasn’t been fired], I’m told. One, they are accounting for the fact that Anthony Davis is out and has missed a lot of games this season. Kendrick Nunn hasn’t played yet this season, a guard they signed that they thought could impact this team.
“But ultimately, they don’t feel in L.A. right now that it would make a difference to let Frank Vogel go. This is a team that wants to still get in the play-in. To get Anthony Davis back. To find a way to get their group. And they still have a coach in Frank Vogel who has won a championship there, who has had success in the playoffs. And, listen, it is hard for any coach to survive the kind of games the Lakers have had this week, where you don’t see effort and you’re getting blown out. That can’t go on forever, but the Lakers still would like to get through the rest of this season with Frank Vogel.”
Woj says the Frank Vigel hasn't been fired cuz the Lakers feel it "wouldn't make a difference."— (@dribblecity) March 4, 2022
That’s not too surprising, as there haven’t really been any reports about Vogel’s seat getting warmer over the last few days, despite the team continuing to lose while looking completely disengaged.
But Woj dropped a much more intriguing nugget on the latest episode of “The Woj Pod,” when he and fellow ESPN insider Dave McMenamin reported that if former lead assistant and LeBron James confidante Jason Kidd hadn’t been hired as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, the team’s calculus on whether or not to keep Vogel would have changed:
Woj: “They would like to get through this season with Frank Vogel... It was day-by-day at one point, and I think we would both agree that if Jason Kidd was still on this staff, they would have made a coaching change...”
Woj: “...at some point. And I think you give David Fizdale a lot of credit for this: He’s been a very loyal assistant to Frank Vogel. He has been shoulder to shoulder with him. He came in here to do that, he’s done that.”
But that loyalty doesn’t really count for much right now. The Lakers are in their worst slump of an extremely dismal season, and pressure is mounting on them to do something, so why not fire Vogel when every sign is pointing to him being let go after the season anyway?
Wojnaworski gave some more insight into that very dilemma on his eponymous podcast:
“They know that the brain power in the room is just better with Frank Vogel and David Fizdale... And they aren’t blaming Frank Vogel for this, but we also know that it’s hard for anyone to survive getting drilled every night. And sometimes you make change for the sake of change. I think the Lakers have and are trying to resist that, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change.
“We’ve got the Warriors coming in Saturday night on ABC, and if all of a sudden you get pounded again in that game, it can change, but right now... Vogel got through this wee, and I don’t think it got close to them making a change. I don’t think that’s their mindset.
“And I think they also know that ‘if we somehow get in the play-in, get in the postseason, and we get AD here, we have a coach here who has won a championhsip. Who has coached in the playoffs, not just in L.A. but in Indiana, and had success. And he gives us a better chance in a playoff series than not having him here.’”
That all makes sense in theory. Then again, the 2021-22 Lakers roster — and most importantly, their newly acquired former MVP point guard — made more sense in theory until the actual games started. The question right now isn’t who puts the Lakers in the best position to succeed in the postseason. It’s pretty clear Vogel is their best option on the bench, at least in terms of resume, in that regard. But the real issue is whether a change needs to be made to reach the postseason in the first place as it becomes increasingly clear, night-after-night, that this roster has quit.
The Lakers’ front office doesn’t seem to have reached that point of desperation yet, but if this team keeps losing as badly as they have been, it sure sounds like that could change.