Sources: ‘No current plans’ to replace Frank Vogel, but Kurt Rambis makes voice heard
Frank Vogel, his time with the Lakers at as perilous a point as he’s faced since he was hired as coach in 2019, wanted to make sure everyone knew.
“We put the work in every day,” he said before his team defeated the Utah Jazz on Monday.
For the record:
9:18 p.m. Jan. 18, 2022An earlier version of this story ran online with details about the location and details of the Lakers’ coaches meetings which were incorrect. They’ve been corrected.
The “we” Vogel was talking about in this case wasn’t LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or the recovering Anthony Davis. He was talking about the people on his bench — the coaches on his staff charged with making the most out of a depleted roster while dealing with injuries, old legs and positive COVID-19 tests.
“The coaching staff works tirelessly, OK, both in analyzing our postgame, meeting with our players individually to show them ways that they have to be better, to reinforce ways that they were great, and they work tirelessly in putting together game plans,” Vogel said. “And the game plans, the margin for error is more slim. We’ve got to be tight with all these coverages that go into it. And we know how to build an elite defense. Hasn’t taken form quite yet with this group, but the work is still being put in.
“And when you work at something, you’re going to improve.”
The statement was made to the media but it might as well have been aimed at Lakers executives Rob Pelinka, Kurt and Linda Rambis and, ultimately, Jeanie Buss. They’re the ones with Vogel’s fate in their hands, and according to NBA insiders, the coach was being seriously evaluated.
Russell Westbrook gets nasty early and Stanley Johnson delivers late as the Lakers earn a 101-95 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday at Crypto.com Arena.
Now, though, people with knowledge of the situation insist “there are no current plans” to replace Vogel — a sign that the coach has navigated through the latest drama surrounding his position.
Still, the temperature has been rising.
According to people with knowledge of the situation, Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, and Kurt Rambis, the team’s senior basketball advisor, met with Vogel and assistant coach David Fizdale after last week’s loss to the Sacramento Kings to discuss ways to turn things around. It was the third time the group had met in recent days.
The Lakers then lost on Saturday to the Denver Nuggets by 37 points, their worst defeat of the season, putting more heat on Vogel.
Rambis then attended the Lakers’ pregame coaches meeting Monday. Rambis has regularly attended coaching meetings this season and advocated for the Lakers to use more traditional strategies.
Vogel seemingly has been on the hot seat all season, beginning with a tepid endorsement of a one-year contract extension last summer. Asked in early December about fingers being pointed at the coach, James said it comes with the territory.
“Criticism comes with the job, you know?” James said Dec. 6. “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. … Frank doesn’t care and we don’t either about what people are saying.”
Lakers star Anthony Davis, who has been sidelined for a month because of a sprained knee, has been cleared to begin on-court, full-contact workouts.
However, following the Lakers’ 101-95 win against the Jazz on Monday, their best victory of the season, The Athletic reported Vogel’s job was in jeopardy. People with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Times that a bad loss to Utah could’ve been the final straw.
In his first year with the team, Vogel led the Lakers through as calamitous an NBA season that’s ever existed — a preseason controversy in China, Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, a pandemic-paused season and, ultimately, an NBA championship won inside an isolation bubble in Orlando.
The Lakers were near the top of the standings last season before injuries to Davis and James set the stage for a first-round playoff exit against the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns. This season, with a roster overhauled most notably with the addition of Westbrook, the Lakers have floundered, sitting seventh in the West, unable to stay healthy or build continuity because of injuries, again, to James and Davis. Those absences were combined with an organization-wide COVID outbreak and limited access to key role players, including Kendrick Nunn, who has yet to play this season.
The chaos created by the Lakers’ mediocrity — the team is 22-22 and has hovered around .500 the entire season — has forced the team to try to reinvent its identity multiple times. Pelinka said before the season that the Lakers’ plans, in part, were to return to the traditional center-anchored lineups the Lakers used in their title march.
Westbrook’s early season struggles combined with another serious injury to Davis — he’s not played since mid-December — pushed the Lakers into small-ball lineups, with the team using James as its center. The changes ignited the Lakers’ offense — their 117 points per 100 possessions ranked third in the NBA over the last 10 games. In the same stretch, beginning with James’ first start at center, the Lakers’ defense is 24th. It’s why Vogel pushed to use Dwight Howard against Utah in an effort to stop the steep defensive decline.
Their defensive stats were greatly aided by the team’s performance against the Jazz. In the three games before, the Lakers had given up at least 125 points. Following Denver’s 133-96 win Saturday, Westbrook and Howard both called out their team’s lack of defensive effort. Magic Johnson blasted the team on Twitter, and after not speaking to the media, James apologized to Lakers fans for the performance the next day.
“I didn’t like what was going to come out of my mouth,” James said two days later of skipping a postgame interview Saturday. “So I decided not to speak with you guys.”
Former Mater Dei High star Stanley Johnson is on his third 10-day contract with the Lakers, whom he helped defeat the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
He said his tweet apologizing to Lakers fans wasn’t directed at anyone in particular.
“We just weren’t playing to our capabilities and we weren’t giving maximum effort,” James said Monday. “So that starts with me as the leader of the team, and so just taking the onus and letting Laker Nation know. Wasn’t about anybody, it was about our fans and the people that ride and die with us every single day. Let them know that I got this and it wouldn’t happen again.”
Against the Jazz, the Lakers looked like a more realized version of themselves. They received word that Davis had been cleared to begin full-contact workouts, essentially the final hurdle in his return from a sprained left knee. Most importantly, the Lakers played with an effort, energy and intensity that Vogel and his coaches have demanded but not always gotten.
“We’re really taking it one game at a time while A.D. is out and we’re trying to get as many wins as we can,” Vogel said. “But I think there’s a huge lesson to be learned with this group that we’re going nowhere without being a great defensive team. Our guys finally locked in … and when we play like this we know we can beat anybody. But it hasn’t been consistent enough and there’s a big lesson to be learned from this game.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying to find help, though their options appear limited. According to people with knowledge of the situation, the team is shopping 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker in trade discussions. Rival general managers believe the Lakers value Horton-Tucker, but they lack the mid-range contracts needed to put together a deal to upgrade their roster and understand no significant trade is getting made without him.
All this uncertainty has NBA insiders focused on Vogel’s job status. The win Monday, they said, is more of a stay than clemency. While there are no current plans to make a change, future plans are dependent on results.
When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday
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Update: The Pacers (14-29) are coming off a 139-133 loss to the Clippers and have lost 10 of their last 11 games, the only win coming against the Jazz.
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