The countdown to hand-picked assistant coach Jason Kidd replacing him has already started, an absurd situation to which Vogel responded appropriately.
Maybe the ha-ha-ha was forced, maybe it was genuine, but it deflected some of the awkwardness that comes with being the head coach of the Lakers these days.
Who knows if Vogel is the right coach for the Lakers — or if the Lakers are the right team for him. Introductory news conferences never reveal that much and the question-and-answer session at the El Segundo practice facility was no exception.
What Vogel displayed, however, was an even temperament that should serve him well for as long as he coaches the team.
Short of a miraculous change in the franchise’s culture, there will continue to be drama. Heck, even if the Lakers win, there will be turmoil. And if anything, Vogel showed he would be a capable spokesman in times of controversy.
Hijacked in the morning by Magic Johnson’s comments on national television, Vogel’s introductory news conference became a referendum on the team’s dysfunctional front office. His comments about the kind of basketball he wanted pushed to the background, Vogel was reduced to listening to general manager Rob Pelinka clumsily defend himself against accusations that he betrayed Johnson.
“It’s a little different, definitely different than I expected and different than I’ve ever been a part of,” Vogel said. “But I understand the line of questioning, in light of the events this morning. You just roll with the punches.”
Vogel smiled as he spoke.
It made sense that he wouldn’t take himself too seriously. He knew his place. At best, he was the Lakers’ third choice, behind Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams. Vogel shares an agent with Lue and had spoken to Lue about working under him as an assistant.
If Pelinka bolted immediately after the formal segment of the news conference, if owner Jeanie Buss was a no-show and if Vogel had to answer a couple of questions that were better directed at his superiors, so be it. Their managerial malpractice was responsible for his surprise return to the head coaching ranks.
Vogel was left alone to answer questions about Kidd, the assistant whom the front office convinced him to take on.
Asked if he felt any discomfort knowing there were rumblings about Kidd succeeding him, Vogel laughed.
“I’m very good at blocking out noise,” Vogel said. “Been around this business a long time. I really don’t give that a second thought. You can say that about every coach in the league about their assistant coaches. It happens from time to time. I believe if you treat people with respect and do the job at the highest level, build an environment of positivity and collaboration, you can’t worry about that stuff. You can’t worry about looking over your shoulder. You got to worry about getting good damn coaches. That’s the way I feel about this hire.”
On whether Kidd’s history of domestic abuse gave him any pause, Vogel replied, “Of course it does. But this is something that’s in the past. He’s sort of spoken upon it and has moved on from it. I believe he’s in a very different place than back then.”
Vogel said the subject was broached “briefly” when he interviewed the Hall of Fame point guard.
“This is the model that’s been best for me, in terms of building my coaching staff — find a respected player with coaching experience and they can help me strengthen my message,” Vogel said.
As the league has changed, so has his message. He described the two seasons he spent coaching a young Orlando Magic team as “a little bit of a laboratory for me.”
“I’m really, really excited about the chance to instill my beliefs on how it’s going to look,” Vogel said. “Offensively, playing for each other, having an analytics-based approach to playing the game outside in, using the three-point line and the space that creates to open up a really strong basket-attacking team. And then defensively, building the defense from the inside out. With all the talk about the three-point line, it’s still important to build your defense inside to out. The basket is still the top priority, the paint is still the top priority, then everyone spray out and guard the three-point line.”
In other words, the Lakers will have to sign shooters and rim protectors.
Vogel anticipated the Lakers would benefit from what he called “one hell of a bounce-back year from LeBron James.”
“He started the season being the same LeBron James that we’ve seen for many, many years,” Vogel said. “Dominant. Ready to take a franchise deep into the playoffs and compete for a championship. Obviously, that got derailed by his injury. … To me, the whole second half of the season, he was not that LeBron James that we know of.”
Vogel characterized his initial dialogue with James as “very positive.”
From a cultural standpoint, Vogel called on his players to block out the negativity around the team.
“I am a positive-energy, enthusiasm type of a coach and I’m going to spread that to everybody that will feel it,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that I understand what the perception is when you lose for a few years and some things happen. But there’s a positive vibe happening with our team right now. There really is, OK? It’s just one of those things you’re going to have to wait and see, but you’re going to be happy with the product we put out on the floor this year and where we’re going as an organization. You really are.”
Of course, just because the captain of a sinking ship believes his vessel will reach shore doesn’t mean it will and just because a boxer thinks he can fight his way off the ropes doesn’t guarantee he can.
Vogel could very well spend the next few seasons rolling with the punches, as he likes to say. He has survived the opening round. It’s now up to James, Buss and Pelinka to create the openings necessary for him to deliver a punch of his own.