Last night, I looked for the Lakers fan protest on the local news but it was drowned out because some crazy was leaning out his car and shooting at the police in a bad version of a crime movie. As he was shooting at the police, half out the window of a moving car- did I mention he was stupid?- they were shooting at him, and passers by, of course, recorded it on their phones. One lucky father had just dropped off his toddler when a bullet struck his truck near the empty car seat. Finally, the police shattered the back window of the Prius and the car was grounded. The shooter was shot up, the chick driving the car was bloody, and the police stormed the house where the Pruis was known to be parked.
After that Hollywood-esque disaster, who cares about a bunch of college students pretending to be annoyed because Jeanie Buss confides in Linda Rambis, and Ty Lue was lowballed.
The following day, the Lakers hired Frank Vogel after a second interview. He agreed to the three year deal that Ty Lue found insulting. He is even willing to take on Jason Kidd as a lead assistant, a sort of Lonzo whisperer.
Vogel guided Paul George teams to the ECF and had a young Paul George to develop. Brian Show is responsible for George’s development, Vogel handed him the job. But Vogel and his defensive schemes and his toughness tutorials managed to get his team on the same floor with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and to compete like a mother, when their center was Roy Hibbert.
In 2011, Frank Vogel was the Pacers interim replacement. He had been the assistant to Jim O’Brien who was fired after 44 games. Vogel became the head coach the following season. He is well respected around the league but not the sexy splash that Jeanie Buss preferred. His teams play hard, are mentally tough, and very prepared. Phil Jackson is on board and was going to hire Vogel for New York. (Add Phil to the growing list of influencers).
In Vogel’s first season with the Pacers, they won 42 games. Paul George was in his second year. The Pacers didn’t have a 20 ppg scorer but five players averaged double figures. They were 6th in 3-point %, 3rd in free throw attempts, 4th in total rebounds, 9th in blocks, 6th in field goal defense and 10th in scoring defense. They lost to LeBron in the semis.
The next year, the Pacers won 49 games and lost to LeBron in the ECF, a dramatic and thrilling 7 game series. They were 1st in defensive rating, and 2nd in scoring defense. Paul George in year three was the Pacers leading scorer.
Then there was the 56 win year and another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, the Pacers were 1st in defensive rating and 2nd in scoring defense. George in year 4 was a 21 point scorer with a PER of 20.1.
Tragically, that summer George suffered a devastating knee injury and then everything came apart without their best player. David West left for the Spurs and then the Warriors. After George returned, he wanted a trade. And that was that. The Pacers short run was over.
For the romantics, the Pacers were a story of what-if. What if George’s knee had never shredded in a USA Basketball scrimmage? What if they returned the same team that had a canny way of matching up with the Heat?
The NBA changes fast. Vogel was out at Indy and coached a young team in Orlando for a hot minute and now he has a job he never thought he would ever have a chance at getting. The Lakers. Their dysfunction may be the lead story but for Frank Vogel this is a win-win. If he bombs, LeBron James and Jeanie will be blamed and he will have upped his exposure and name value. If he succeeds, he will be a story for the ages.
But will he succeed?
Maybe. Possibly. He has talent on the roster and he has an identity. Luke Walton’s primary problem was he lacked an identity that transformed the culture. He wanted to play a certain way, regardless of the talent on the floor. Vogel is a system coach. He may not succeed but the kids will know how to play defense when he is gone.
Despite the drama that has been news around the world, the Lakers had bright spots in 2018-19. They were 2nd in fast break points, 7th in field goal percentage, 4th in rebounding, 4th in pace, 11th in assists, 7th in blocks, 9th in fg% defense, 12th in 3-point defense and 12th in defensive rating. Their biggest weakness was not having a perimeter shotmaker. Kyle Kuzma shot 30% from three. Brandon Ingram shot 33% from three. Lonzo Ball, 32% from long distance. Rajon Rondo was as good as they got from distance, 35%, and that is a horrific red flag.
Frank Vogel can’t help with that. He is a defensive coach. The Lakers defense should rise from good to very, very good. Jason Kidd on the bench will be in Lonzo’s ear all of the time and will assist Vogel with the offense but when Kidd was in charge of Milwaukee, their offensive efficiency numbers were awful.
Vogel’s toughness is natural. A New Jersey kid, his house caught fire when he was 17 and he climbed out the upstairs window to save himself and his mother. Now he is being asked to save the Lakers. He has been around the block and with the Lakers before.
First there was working for the Celtics under Rick Pitino who he knew from his Kentucky days. He was an assistant for the 76ers, then a scout for the Lakers and Wizards before he began working for the Pacers. He is 45 years old. He will bring Eastern Conference grit to the West.
What Vogel adds to an empty table isn’t Hollywood or Malibu. He’s more Philly than L.A. Very Jersey. A dedicated, serious and committed coach. Blue collar. He never played and has great self-awareness. When things were getting tight with the pressure, he would have Brian Shaw talk to the players about things Vogel had no experience in. He knows what he doesn’t know and he creates a village. It’s not exactly the Lakers blueprint but everything else has failed so far. Take a U-turn people. It may lead you somewhere.