The Los Angeles Lakers are bordering on a crisis after a torrid start to the 2021-22 NBA season, and Frank Vogel is genuinely on the hot seat because of it. That’s been made clear after a week of reporting that began with The Athletic saying Vogel was coaching for his job on Monday, a win over Utah.
On Wednesday, after a loss to Indiana, Yahoo reported that Vogel was at least safe for the team’s upcoming road trip.
But what happens if or when L.A. does make a move? Assistant coach David Fizdale or … someone else?
“David Fizdale is on the bench, and every team does that. They sort of have an assistant coach, and it is an unspoken thing that if the head coach gets fired, he is going to be the guy. It happened in Sacramento; for example, you kind of knew that Alvin Gentry was there to be the guy in case Luke Walton got fired,” Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney noted during a recent episode of Heavy on the NBA.
“But a name that has gotten bandied about on the rumor mill from what I’ve heard is Mike D’Antoni. I wonder if that would be something crazy if they fire Frank Vogel, this defensive-minded coach, always has been, to go from that toward seven seconds or less—and Mike D’ Antoni has adjusted his style a little bit, but to go to such an offensive style. I don’t know, maybe the team needs to lean into the offense and say, ‘We’re never going to be a defensive team.'”
While injuries have undoubtedly played a part in the Lakers’ struggles, it’s clear that an aging roster comprised of future Hall of Fame players is struggling to jell. With the Lakers lacking any significant trade chips, they’re most likely going to roll with their current team for the remainder of the season. And while abstaining from a trade makes sense, it does lump further pressure onto head coach Frank Vogel.
D’Antoni ‘Not Ruling Anything Out’ on Coaching Return
The famed offensive guru, Mike D’Antoni, spent last season on the Brooklyn Nets bench, helping former star guard Steve Nash transition into his new role as head coach. This season, the “seven seconds or less” pioneer is working with the New Orleans Pelicans in a consultancy role alongside first-time head coach Willie Green.
“Willie’s been great to work with. We talk and it’s great having a dialogue. He’s doing a phenomenal job. I enjoy it for right now. I try to add what I can. It’s all good. We’ll see (about next season.) I’m not ruling it out. Too young (at 70 years old) to rule anything out,” D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle in December 21.
Despite Vogel’s reputation as a defensive coach, his team currently sits 21st in defensive rating according to Cleaning The Glass, allowing 111.4 points per 100 possessions. When you look at the Lakers roster, it’s clear as day that it’s geared towards a high-octane offense and has vivid defensive deficiencies.
Making the switch to an offensive mastermind could remedy Los Angeles’ needs. It would allow LeBron James and Russell Westbrook to thrive in a high-paced transition-heavy system, but the larger question is whether that style of basketball is sustainable for such an aging roster.
Frank Vogel Will Go Down Fighting
On January 19, against the Indiana Pacers, Vogel made a tough decision to bench superstar guard Russell Westbrook. In doing so, the Lakers head coach sent a message to the rest of his team and proved that he would go down swinging should his job genuinely be on the line.
“I think Frank will handle it fine. I think he knows there is a certain element of this that is just not personal. I have known Frank since he was working on the video staff for the Celtics, then a manager in college. I think he recognizes that there is a certain element that is, hey, it is good fortune for any of us to be in these positions. I don’t think he is going to go crazy with this.
If (LeBron) James comes out and says, ‘Hey, this is our coach,’ and when you have a guy like Frank Vogel, who is certainly going to do and insert what he thinks is best for the team if you’re LeBron James, you have got to want to play for a guy like that. You’ve got to be concerned about what comes next,” Heavy NBA insider Steve Bulpett told Deveney.
There are still three weeks remaining until the trade deadline, and the Lakers are likely to explore every possible avenue before making a decision on a coaching change. However, Westbrook’s contract is borderline unmovable, and unless the Lakers can coax the Boston Celtics into doing a deal for a bona fide point guard, the team’s chances of moving on from him before the end of the season are slim to none.
Of course, should the Lakers decide to move on from Vogel, there will be a plethora of coaches lining up to work with some of this generation’s greatest players. But D’Antoni might be the team’s best bet and another championship before the front office starts disbanding a group that hasn’t meshed as well as people would have hoped.