Lakers coach Frank Vogel is back, and hopes COVID is in past

Lakers coach Frank Vogel questions an official's call.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel returned to the sideline Friday night after clearing the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers coach Frank Vogel is used to having to phone in for the holidays. It’s what you do when you’re coaching an NBA team, the league opening its office for Christmas Day while sending teams across the country away from home.

It’s part of the job.

This, though, is only part of the job now.

In quarantine because of COVID-19, Vogel had to spend Christmas morning virtually with his family despite being just down the road. Stuck in a hotel room, isolating to keep his family safe and healthy, he was able to at least drive by his home to pick up Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas meals from his wife.

“It’s something that I really never wanna do again,” Vogel said before the Lakers’ game Friday night against Portland, his first game back.


He missed the six games because of an escalating case of the virus. Initially after testing positive in Chicago, he said he felt completely fine. Within days, he had developed a serious cough and headaches.

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Dec. 30, 2021

“It never reached a point where I was feeling like I was going to be hospitalized or in danger or anything like that, but to me, my individual case, it definitely was not mild symptoms,” Vogel said. “I got pretty sick. And you fight through it, you kinda hope it goes away, but it lingers. So thankfully I’m on the mend, I’m feeling a lot better.”

Vogel’s return to the bench was not the only one, the Lakers inching toward whole after an outbreak ran through the team’s traveling party.

Trevor Ariza, Austin Reaves and Kent Bazemore also returned from the health and safety protocols Friday.

“To miss six [games] was challenging — obviously physically challenging with what I was going through, but mentally challenging as well, being in isolation, trying to help your team and your staff as much as you can remotely, giving input but also trying to empower them to coach the team and use their judgment and their instincts,” Vogel said. “The whole thing was challenging, and I’m happy to be back.”

Vogel’s situation is far from unique in the NBA, with Portland coach Chauncey Billups one of a handful of coaches currently unable to work because of the virus. Veteran coach Scott Brooks coached Portland against the Lakers.


“Yeah, it’s been a crazy process for everyone, for everyone in the league, and obviously, for everyone everywhere in the world,” Brooks said. “Chauncey’s been great. … He’s been great, great to work with. I’m hoping that this is my last game, that he’ll come back soon.”

The team Vogel is returning to is different from the one he left. LeBron James again started at center Friday and Stanley Johnson was in the starting five despite still being on a 10-day contract.

“We’re going to use the whole time to evaluate Stanley,” Vogel said. “I think he’s done a great job so far. His toughness and hustle is something that our team really needs, so he’s providing a valuable role in that regard, and we’ll continue to evaluate him during the duration of his contract.”

Despite his team going 1-5 while he was sidelined, Vogel praised interim coach David Fizdale for how things ran, singling out the Lakers’ newer commitment to playing even smaller.

“I thought Coach Fiz did a phenomenal job. Not a decent job, a phenomenal job in my absence,” Vogel said. “I think our team grew. Didn’t show up, unfortunately, in the win-loss column as much as we all would have wanted it to, but our team grew during this stretch. And I think some of the growth areas we saw are gonna pay dividends for us going forward and helping us win games.”