Some people were surprised. Other people didn’t understand it. There were people who thought it was nuts. And, there were people who even cursed.
“Literally I thought,” one longtime NBA scout said, “Oh … ! Who put this together?”
For all the questions around the NBA about the Lakers this season, the one that manages to get people going the fastest is how things will play out on the team’s sideline between the head coach Frank Vogel and his highest-profile assistant, Jason Kidd.
After the staff came together, the four-letter expletives flew in NBA circles because of Kidd’s reputation as a power-hungry coach. He went to ownership with a plan to wrestle control of the Brooklyn Nets’ basketball decisions from then-general manager Billy King — and it didn’t work. He made a clunky exit to Milwaukee, a team that already had a coach, where he was always viewed as a threat to make another run at a front office-coach dual title. That too eventually didn’t work.
One year removed from the Bucks’ flourishing ways with Kidd no longer at the helm, the Lakers appeared to make it clear to head-coaching candidates that Kidd should be strongly considered for a position as an assistant.
Vogel, for his part, has seemed unfazed by the matchmaking despite the fact that the Lakers interviewed Kidd for the job Vogel eventually got.
“In terms of how it’s begun with Jason and I, I’d rate it a 10 out of 10,” Vogel said at the Lakers’ media day. “I think we’re off to a great start.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka praised Vogel’s collaborative spirit and his willingness to work with an experienced coaching staff. Kidd had 373 games in the big chair on the bench. Another Vogel assistant, Lionel Hollins, had 534. Both have won NBA titles as a player.
“The goal of the staff was to have a very experienced staff. And the vision is to have Frank surrounded by other coaches who have been in the head chair,” Pelinka said. “Knowing that the level of roster we were building was full of guys with high, high basketball IQ. The more basketball minds we could have as part of the staff, we felt better.”
The Lakers could certainly use strong personalities with star power like LeBron James, free-agent-to-be Anthony Davis and strong-minded veterans like Rajon Rondo. Meek assistant coaches could get chewed up and spit out.
But this much experience isn’t the typical course of action for a coach as accomplished as Vogel, someone who has won more than 50% of his NBA games and who led the Indiana Pacers to the edge of the NBA Finals (only to be stopped by James and the Miami Heat).
No team in the league has close to 900-plus games of head-coaching experience between its assistant coaches (about half have zero). Typically when you hire someone to coach a contender, you don’t sit him so close to his logical replacement.
“For the younger guys … you want the guys who have been head coaches, who have presence and can walk you through and aren’t hungry for your job,” a Western Conference scout said. “That’s not this.”
James has lived through a version of this already in his career, when his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers coincided with David Blatt trying to translate his success as a coach internationally to the NBA. He was replaced by Tyronn Lue midway through his second season.
But Vogel’s no rookie coach. And Kidd’s not your typical assistant coach. He’s a Hall of Fame player, a contemporary and former Team USA teammate of James and a potential lead recruiter for Giannis Antetokounmpo when the league’s MVP can become a free agent two years from now. That’s a lot of clout for someone who isn’t the lead voice on the bench.
“His intent to come in here and fill any role that’s needed should be commended,” Vogel said. “I love the fact that when I interviewed him that he felt like when he went from being a player to a head coach, he skipped steps in terms of learning what the process is like of being an assistant coach and the work that goes in and learning what the foundation is to coaching at this level. So, he’s excited about executing that responsibility, that type of role.”
Kidd’s thoughts on the subject? The Lakers have declined to make him available to reporters.
Maybe a complementary role is a better fit. Like Vogel said, Kidd did skip steps after retiring. He immediately moved to the top spot on a bench — no experience working as an assistant or in any other capacity for a team.
While Kidd’s not regarded as a tactical genius in the NBA’s scouting circles, he’s been praised for his ability to work with players and develop strong relationships. One of the Lakers’ initial interests in Kidd was to mentor point guard Lonzo Ball, who was sent packing in the deal to acquire Davis. Kidd’s a natural messenger — someone who should be tasked with communicating criticism from Vogel, Pelinka or any other authority figure to the Lakers’ biggest stars.
Scouts say the personality triumvirate on the Lakers’ bench between Vogel, Kidd and Hollins makes some sense on paper. Vogel is regarded as a great thinker and worker, someone who will be incredibly prepared for whatever opponents throw at the Lakers. Hollins is an old-school coach not afraid to raise his voice to get his point across. Kidd has credibility with players because of his on-court abilities that most assistants could only dream about.
If the Lakers struggle at any point this season, if the offense is stale or the defense isn’t working, Kidd’s name is expected to be floated as a possible new head coach. There’s a potential there, because of his past, for chaos to always be bubbling under the team’s crust, threatening an eruption.
“It just adds a lot of questions,” one scout said.
And some of those questions might include expletives.