It came with very, very little surprise that Rob Pelinka’s attempt to describe what he wanted in the next Lakers head coach was littered with examples of what Frank Vogel wasn’t.
As he sat down for his exit interview on Monday, Pelinka and the Lakers were barely an hour removed from “parting ways” with Vogel, though the announcement came as a formality as they had long, long since framed him as the scapegoat for this season and let it be known he would fired at season’s end. Short of having a whiteboard counting down the days until the end of his tenure on display in the practice facility, it could hardly have been more obvious that Vogel was a goner.
That it took mere seconds after the final buzzer on Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Nuggets for the report to come out was a fitting, if also remarkably embarrassing, conclusion to the situation.
“Today is not going to be a day of finger-pointing or unwinding all the specific reasons,” Pelinka said on Monday at a press conference to announce that he had fired his head coach. “We just felt organizationally at the highest level (that) it was time for a new voice, and those decisions are made at the very top level in a collaborative way by our basketball operations department.
“Ultimately with (team governor) Jeanie (Buss) and (president of business operations) Tim (Harris) and the leaders of our organization, and we just felt like it was time for a new voice. And that’s not to say anything against the incredible accomplishments that Frank Vogel has had. He was a great coach here, and he’s going to go on to be a great coach somewhere else. We just felt like it was time for a new leader, and that’s how we made the decision that we did.”
There were basketball reasons that Vogel’s job could have been on the line. His stubbornness in keeping DeAndre Jordan in the lineup to start the season cost the Lakers games. His constant shuffling of lineups and rotations to end the season was an overcorrection that also likely cost the team wins.
But playing Jordan was a result of a roster put together by Pelinka. As was the constant shuffling to find consistent contributors later in the year. Ultimately, though, it was Vogel who was the fall guy, and the Lakers are moving forward without him.
And as the search begins for a new candidate, Pelinka laid out what the team will be looking for in a new head coach. But his “I want to make sure that no part of that is a knock or disparagement towards Frank” precursor did little to stop the questions as to whether his description of qualities that he’s looking for were a knock or disparagement of Vogel.
“Every coaching candidate is unique in their skill set,” Pelinka said. “So this is not an analysis of (Vogel) whatsoever, and I want to be clear on that. But in terms of what this team needs right now, we feel like obviously with superstars on our team we want a strong voice that is able to inspire the players to play at the highest level of competition every night, and I think that’s going to be one of the resounding qualities that we look for, in terms of holding everybody from the top player on our team to the 15th man to a degree of accountability, and that’s going to be one of the many characteristics that jumps out today.”
If those all sound like things Vogel didn’t necessarily do, then you aren’t the only one thinking as much. The Lakers did struggle to compete on a night-in, night-out basis, particularly down the stretch. Too many games in the second half of the season saw an uninspired Lakers team looking like they had given up on the season, or maybe just their head coach.
And again, in a vacuum, all these are fair qualities to search for in a head coach. Given the context of the Lakers situation, though, listing them felt a little like kicking a man on the way out. But the Lakers are moving on, and it’ll be an interesting search.
So far, the likes of Nick Nurse, Doc Rivers, Quin Snyder and Mark Jackson are among the highest-profile names linked to the opening. Bizarrely and unprompted, Pelinka suggested the Lakers hadn’t even begun thinking about potential candidates, something that feels highly unlikely considered Vogel has been all-but-fired for months.
But list or no list yet, the Lakers are aiming to have a head coach in place by the NBA Draft set for June 23, giving the team over two months to, I suppose, make a totally new list of candidates that they definitely had not given any previous thought to and narrow it down to the team’s next head coach.
“I think it’s going to be a very methodical process,” Pelinka said. “I think the principles here are not to pick an end date and say ‘hey we have to have someone by this date.’ I think we want to find the right person, that’s the most important thing. I think all things considered it would be great to have someone in place by the draft,
“Our process will be thorough and methodical,” Pelinka continued. “We haven’t even begun to put together a list or discuss who the replacement is. We wanted to make a commitment to finishing the season strong last night — which we were able to do — and not skip steps, and make those decisions once the season was over, starting today.”
If this article feels a bit sarcastic, it’s because the way the Lakers are going about business is borderline insulting to the intelligence of fans. From pretending like Vogel hasn’t been fired for months to calling the Adrian Wojnarowski report of him being fired “unsourced” to taking not so subtle shots at Vogel on the way out, the Lakers are acting like it’s the Showtime Era and fans are just left in the dark, with no choice but to believe everything that comes out of the front office’s mouths because of how much less coverage and access there is to the team’s thought process.
There should be a lot of looking in the mirror by the front office before they start putting together a list of candidates and beginning a search for a new head coach, or else it really doesn’t matter what qualities that coach has: Because if the team makes the same micromanaging, controlling and cheap mistakes they did with Vogel with their next coach, they will be headed down the same path all over again.
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