The Lakers got their guy… or at least the guy third on their list. Or fourth.
Monday night the Lakers made it official, hiring Frank Vogel as their new head coach.
“We are excited to add Frank Vogel as the next head coach of the Lakers,” Laker GM Rob Pelinka said in a statement. “Coach Vogel has a proven track record of success in the NBA Playoffs, and he reflects the core qualities we were looking for in a head coach – including, detailed game preparation, extreme hard work, and holding players accountable to the highest basketball standards.”
“I am very excited for this opportunity to join the Lakers, a prestigious organization that I have long admired,” Vogel said in the press release (his official press conference is Monday). “I look forward to coaching such phenomenal talent and bringing my strategic vision to the team.”
Vogel took a reported three-year contract — two fewer than first-time NBA coach John Beilein got in Cleveland — and agreed to take on Jason Kidd as his lead assistant. Tyronn Lue was offered that same contract but valued control and power more than the job itself and turned it down. Vogel did not.
That said, Vogel could succeed as the Lakers’ coach. He has a good Xs and Os mind and is respected in the coaching community. In a vacuum this is a solid, if unspectacular, hire. It also didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Vogel’s ultimate success will depend on several things, some beyond his control:
• How will LeBron James respond to this behind closed doors? Publicly he backed the hire on social media, but rumblings around the league suggest he was less than pleased. This was not his guy. That said, he’s going to buy in on some level — he wants to win, he’s still in legacy mode, he’s not getting traded — but will it stay that way when things get tough? He has long gravitated toward former players as his preference as a coach (Luke Walton is the exception) and now Kidd, a guy LeBron won a gold medal with during the 2008 Olympics, will be right there.
• More importantly, what kind of roster will Vogel have to coach? The real challenge for Pelinka — and Kurt Rambis, who has grown into a more significant role with the Lakers — is to land another star player then put good fitting role players around them. This needs to be a win-now team. It’s easy to say “this is the Lakers, they will get somebody” but when those somebodies have other options will they look at the Lakers management, and the expecations, and think that they like the other options better?
Vogel is seen as a good defensive coach who can be a bit simplistic with his offensive sets, although “give the ball to LeBron and get out of the way” is not the worst offensive strategy. Vogel coached the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, both times losing to LeBron James’ Heat. Vogel struggled to coach a rebuilding team in Orlando, a squad Steve Clifford did much better with this season. That said, he’s a solid coach. If he gets a real chance.
The Lakers got their man… and their potential fall guy if this season doesn’t live up to the expectations, either.