Way back in July, the Lakers interviewed former Thunder and Wizards head coach Scott Brooks for an assistant coaching job under Frank Vogel. The team had already hired David Fizdale as their lead assistant by that point, but still pursued Brooks before he eventually took a lead assistant role under Chauncey Billups with the Portland Trail Blazers.
At the time, that seemed like a fairly minor loss. In retrospect, however, the last 24 hours have made clear that some people within the team seem to think that hiring Brooks could have made a real difference. The first signal of those feelings came from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who while outlining the reasons the Lakers are unlikely to fire Vogel right now highlighted two notable things:
- How badly the Lakers wanted Brooks
- That Vogel might not still be the head coach if they had him
“They know that the brain power in the room is just better with Frank Vogel and David Fizdale. They don’t have as experienced a staff as they could have. They wanted to have a staff with Scott Brooks and David Fizdale, but Portland offered a little more money to go be the top asssistant there, Fiz already had the top assistant job (with the Lakers), and so financially it kind of drops down. And I think it might be different if you had another former head coach on the bench. And so all those are factors.”
But as much as that makes it sound like maybe Vogel wouldn’t have wanted Brooks around for job security reasons, a few scoops from ESPN and New York Times veteran Marc Stein’s recent dispatches make it sound like Vogel may have liked to have Brooks around, too, if for no other reason than to help the Westbrook experience run more smoothly.
First, from Stein’s latest column on his must-subscribe Substack:
I was reminded Tuesday night — and not for the first time this season — that the Lakers were outbid by Portland in the pursuit of Scott Brooks as an assistant coach to Vogel. Given the Lakers’ ample difficulties in helping Westbrook establish a role, which were predicted from the jump, one inevitably wonders how much Brooks’ presence could have helped, given his unique status as a former head coach who forged a strong connection with the headstrong Westbrook in two different cities (Oklahoma City and Washington).
In addition, Cal State Fullerton’s greatest NBA writer reported during his recent Spotify Green Room session that his understanding is that Vogel would have welcomed Brooks on his bench while responding to a question about Vogel’s job security:
“Who could coach Westbrook at this point?” Stein said. “This is on the Lakers too. They were in the mix to try and get Scotty Brooks, and Scotty Brooks ended up on Portland’s staff. I think Frank Vogel wanted Scotty Brooks on his staff, and I think Scotty Brooks would have been a very useful voice for the Lakers to have if you’re going to put so much on Westbrook to try and go somewhere this season.”
Instead, the Westbrook experiment has gone nowhere, quickly, dramatically and mostly engulfed in flames, culminating in recent rumors that he and the team have mutual interest in a split this summer, and that Westbrook has been less than open to criticism of his play or requests from teammates and coaches to make adjustments.
Would Brooks have fixed all of that? It’s kind of doubtful, but it seems unlikely that having him around could have hurt. And as Lakers insider Dave McMenamin of ESPN pointed out in the same “The Woj Pod” referenced above, the larger theme from all these reports and missteps is the Lakers not being committed to spending everything it takes to give themselves the best chance to win.
Coming from the only NBA team to request a loan meant to help small business during the early days of the pandemic (they returned it after ESPN reported they got one) and a majority governor who has the same reported net worth as the team’s top player ($500 million, which for context, would rank in the bottom five among NBA team owners), maybe this thriftiness shouldn’t be surprising.
But considering how much more playoff revenue the Lakers are going to miss out on as a result of this mess — in addition to waning fan enthusiasm about this season and rapidly disintegrating belief in the team’s brain trust moving forward — it’s difficult to argue that the moves they’ve made are really going to be a net positive financially for anything but ownership’s short-term expenditure sheet.
And these flaws are rooted as much in philosophy as financials. As my friends the Kamenetzky brothers pointed out well on Twitter, the way this front office and ownership group has treated everything from their coaches to role players since former agent to the stars Rob Pelinka took over the front office makes it clear that they feel everything except for said stars — from role players, to coaches and more — are completely fungible and easily replaced.
From lowballing Tyronn Lue, to overhauling the entire roster every year since Pelinka has been in charge, to not retaining Ryan West — a key factor in many of their draft successes — to only giving Vogel a three-year contract initially as their clear (at-best) third choice, then only giving him a one-year token extension to make him a lame duck in the locker room in all but name, to making the insulting argument to Alex Caruso that he should factor in their luxury tax payments as part of how much they value him even though he wouldn’t get any of that penalty money, and surely other factors that I’m forgetting offhand, there has been a clear pattern here of the message from ownership and the front office to the league: If you are not a star, we think we can replace you or get someone just as good for less money.
Ultimately, it’s not hard to imagine all of it ultimately becoming more damaging to their league-wide perception and long-term finances than the loss of a few more dollars spent up front.