Frank Vogel and LeBron James address the heat Lakers coach is feeling amid slow start
The Lakers have pledged to take the long view this season with LeBron James at the front of that line. Admittedly not always the most patient person, James knew wading through the Lakers’ big changes this offseason was going to take time.
It’s unclear, though, how much longer anyone is willing to wait.
Asked about the criticism directed at coach Frank Vogel for the Lakers’ slow start, James said that anyone on the sidelines should be used to it.
“Criticism comes with the job, you know? Frank is a strong-minded guy. He has a great coaching staff. And we as his players have to do a better job of going out and producing on the floor,” he said. “So, we’re a team and an organization that don’t mind some adversity, that don’t mind people saying things about us, obviously, because it comes with the territory.”
Finding the right five-player combination of scoring and defense has been a struggle for the Lakers all season. Are they any closer to finding a fix?
The territory, anyone would acknowledge, could get rockier. The Lakers are 12-12 and hosting Boston on Tuesday before playing five of their next six games on the road. Once they get back to Los Angeles, they’ll have Phoenix and Brooklyn waiting for them to bookend a three-game homestand.
Vogel said the pressure with this job isn’t different than what he’s already felt in his career.
“Not really. There’s gonna be criticism with this job,” Vogel said. “It’s something we’re all accustomed to. And I’ve been a coach for 10 years, I’ve seen it all.”
He’s seen it all — except for this Lakers team coming together on the court.
He acknowledged Monday that Kendrick Nunn almost certainly would miss all of December because of a bone bruise in a knee, postponing his Lakers debut to 2022.
Assuming James can put together his longest stretch of healthy basketball this season and that Trevor Ariza, who was a full participant in practice Monday, continues to improve, the sample sizes might start getting large enough to make evaluations of the Lakers.
For now, James said, things are still too new, particularly when discussing his on-court partnership with Russell Westbrook.
“In order for us to know what we do best, not only for each other, but for the betterment of the team, you have to log those minutes. You have to log those games,” James said. “And we haven’t had enough games together to know exactly what’s going to work the best for our team long term. But I think if you’re looking at short term, I know we’re very dynamic in transition. Our ability to see the floor, see each other but also see our teammates has been very dynamic.”
The team has struggled on both sides of the court, things ticking upward on defense. Vogel has pointed to lack of effort, buy-in and execution as key reasons why the Lakers have struggled on defense.
“Our guys are not happy with our record and where we’re at. So, there is a greater sense of urgency than we saw a few weeks ago,” Vogel said. “You hope that it’s there every time you touch the floor. That’s how champions behave. Hasn’t always been there for us, but there definitely has been an uptick as of late.”
Asked if he thought the team needed to play harder, James deferred to Vogel’s assessment.
“Whatever Frank says, he’s seen. He’s watching it. The coaching staff sees it,” James said. “We’ve just got to do a better job being more accountable for each other.”
The Lakers never led in a loss to the Clippers, remaining inconsistent even with LeBron James back from a false-positive coronavirus test.
James joked that the Lakers have played some of their best defense in the games he’s missed.
For the team to reach its potential, James will have to be on the court healthy and comfortable — something that hasn’t happened this season with the Lakers’ star unable to log four straight games because of injuries, a suspension and, most recently, bad luck with a false-positive COVID-19 test.
“I feel decent physically,” James said. “I’m still getting back to where I was.”
So are the Lakers. Who leads them back and whether they even get there at all are still to be determined.
Vs. Boston Celtics
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, TNT; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: One of the NBA’s most heated rivalries closes its chapter this season, short of another possible meeting in the NBA Finals. With the way both teams are playing, either appearing at the end would be at least a moderate surprise. The Celtics have struggled but are starting to warm up while winning six of their last nine games with a blowout win in Portland freshest in their memories. Jaylen Brown has struggled with a hamstring injury and is questionable. The Lakers could be without star reserve Carmelo Anthony because of flu-like symptoms unrelated to COVID-19. With or without him, they will need to play with a consistency that’s eluded them for most of the season.
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