When the Lakers made Frank Vogel their coach, the reaction to the news was tepid.
From a public relations standpoint, his tenure got off to a rocky start.
But as soon as basketball began, concerns began to dissipate.
On Monday, Vogel was named the Western Conference coach of the month for his combined performance in October and November. It was the first time since Mike D’Antoni in 2013 that a Lakers coach earned the honor, and it took an extraordinary accomplishment. The Lakers went 17-2 in that span, matching the franchise’s best record through 19 games.
Perhaps more critically, Vogel earned the support of his star players.
“Yessir coach Frank the Tank,” LeBron James posted on Twitter after the NBA announced the award.
James’ relationship with his coaches has been a subject of discussion throughout his career. When the Lakers signed James, who was in the same draft class as then-Lakers coach Luke Walton, their relationship was a subject of concern. The Lakers struggled in Walton’s final year, and there were reports that James’ camp wanted him out.
After the Lakers parted ways with Walton, they conducted an elongated search for his replacement.
Vogel wasn’t part of their first round of interviews, and negotiations had fallen apart with the two coaches widely considered to be finalists — Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams. Some wondered how Vogel and James would interact, especially given his close relationship with Lue. Others conjectured that assistant coach Jason Kidd’s presence would be dangerous for Vogel.
Even Vogel’s introductory news conference was hijacked because it was the first time since Magic Johnson stepped down that any member of the Lakers’ front office had addressed the state of the franchise.
James laid low throughout the process. But as the season opener approached and the Lakers played the Clippers, who had hired Lue as part of Doc Rivers’ staff, James was asked about the onetime possibility that Lue would be his coach again.
“At the end of the day for Jeanie and Rob and everybody upstairs, I was just supportive of whatever moves that they were making,” James said, referring to owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka. “There was a time where it was possibly going to happen, I was ecstatic about that. I was excited because I know what T-Lue is capable of and what we accomplished in Cleveland. When it didn’t happen, we moved on and we moved on to Coach Vogel and I was excited about that, which I still am.”
James often praises Vogel unprompted. When asked about limiting his minutes, he began “I love coach, and what the coaching staff are doing, I think he’s doing what’s best for the team, and obviously I respect that.”
When asked about his high number of steals, he mentioned Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, Lue and Vogel as the defense-minded coaches who put him in positions to grab them. When asked about his assists, James made sure to praise Vogel and his staff for starting him at point guard.
Vogel’s focus on defense has been something other players appreciate too.
“When you have a defensive coach, it helps,” Danny Green said. “And when you have guys who are defensive players, it helps a ton.”
His players have bought into what Vogel is doing. But Vogel understands one thing — winning games often goes hand in hand with chemistry between the players and the coaching staff.
“The buy-in to any coaching situation is always important,” Vogel said. “And when you win early, that comes faster. So, hopefully we’re off to a good start in that regard.”
He said that in the second week of November, and the Lakers lost only two games since he said that. November, though, was populated with teams with losing records. What awaits the Lakers in December is different, starting with a loss to Dallas and next up a Denver team with the second-best record in the West.
When: 6 p.m., Tuesday
On air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The two teams with the best records in the Western Conference enter this game after a loss. For the Nuggets, it was a three-point overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.