Lakers fire coach Frank Vogel after season burdened by injuries and turmoil
Dwight Howard, the future Hall of Famer who emerged from a toxic partnership in Los Angeles only to return twice as a fun-loving, veteran giant, spent the Lakers’ entire season looking for the positive in everything.
When Howard was asked Monday what the low point was this season, his answer was as bleak as the subject.
“Pretty much the whole season,” Howard said, the 49-loss Lakers breaking even their biggest prankster.
There was no room for optimism, the Lakers wrapping up one of the most disappointing seasons in not only team history, but also NBA history.
The Lakers fired their coach, Frank Vogel, but only after they embarrassed him by allowing word to leak to an ESPN reporter, who tweeted about it at the final horn of the team’s season finale Sunday before Vogel spoke to general manager Rob Pelinka.
Pelinka never spoke to LeBron James about the decision, which hadn’t been announced when the Lakers’ star wrapped up his exit interview Monday morning.
When Pelinka met with the media at noon, the firing finally made official, he didn’t express any regret that Vogel learned of the decision via Twitter and had to address it at an uncomfortable postgame news conference.
On the same day that LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, GM Rob Pelinka and others address the media, the Lakers fire coach Frank Vogel. Read more here.
“In terms of media reports that are speculative and unsourced, we don’t spend any of our time reacting to that type of information in terms of how we make decisions here,” Pelinka said.
He declined to say when the Lakers made their decision.
“Today’s not gonna be a day of like finger-pointing or unwinding all of the specific reasons,” Pelinka said. “We just felt organizationally, at the highest level, it was time for a new voice. … And that’s not to say anything against the incredible accomplishments that Frank Vogel’s had.”
Vogel, in his first season, navigated the Lakers through the travails of the pandemic season and won the team’s 17th championship in the NBA bubble. The next season they won 42 games despite injuries to James and Anthony Davis but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, though, the injuries to their stars, combined with a lack of execution and failure to find cohesiveness in a team that boasted four of the NBA’s 75 greatest players, led to a seemingly unimaginable level of futility.
“He was a great coach here and he’s going to go on to be a great coach somewhere else,” Pelinka continued. “We just felt like it was time for a new leader.”
It was all part of a day that reaffirmed just how significant, and potentially fraught, this offseason will be — the Lakers needing to hire a coach, figure out how to surround James with talent and deal with a seemingly unhappy Russell Westbrook, who said he never got a fair shake in his first season as a Laker.
Westbrook said he and Vogel never connected — a problem that occurred only with him, he said.
“I never, from the get-go, was feeling like” we were on the same page, Westbrook said . “I was having to try to prove myself to him and my capabilities and what I’ve been able to do for this game. And it’s unfortunate but it’s really not … it’s kind of out of my hands.”
You might not like him, maybe you revile him, but Doc Rivers is the right coach to replace Frank Vogel, writes L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke.
Yet people with knowledge of the situation said that behind the scenes, Vogel was the biggest supporter of Westbrook in meetings about the underachieving Lakers and their superstar point guard, while staffers fumed about Westbrook’s lack of production and inability to adjust to playing alongside James and Davis.
Since the team traded for Westbrook, Davis and James repeatedly said they wanted to let “Russ be Russ.”
“Yeah, but that wasn’t true,” Westbrook said flatly.
He said he hadn’t made a decision about his player option for next season, though at $47.1 million, it’s hard to imagine him turning it down. James said it was premature to talk about signing a possible extension this summer, but guard Kendrick Nunn, who missed the entire season because of a knee injury, said he’d be opting in.
Malik Monk and Howard, both free agents, said they’d like to return as well.
Once upon a time the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook bet was a sign of hope. Then the reality of an aging roster, and injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, set in.
James will need four to six weeks of recovery from the sprained ankle that cost him all but one game down the stretch. He also said he’s scheduled examinations on his knee and groin. No other player disclosed any lingering injuries.
While James downplayed his role in building the Lakers’ roster, he did say the team needed to get younger while improving on offense and defense. Without many tradeable assets, though, the Lakers will have to rebuild on a tight budget, while still trying to contend for a championship.
“I came here to win a championship. And I want to win more,” James said. “So I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, but I’m still hungry for more. I’m confident that this organization wants the same. That’s what this organization has always been about.
“And I also want to just change the narrative of how this franchise can compete at a high level again. What they’ve done, decade and decade and decade and decades of winning. … I told them that I want to help this franchise become a champion once again. So I’ve done that. We’ve done that. But I want to do it again.”
To do so, the Lakers will need to be much, much better than they were this season, when they ranked in the lower third of the NBA in offense and defense.
“This was a disappointing Lakers season at every level and I think in the face of disappointment our fans expect more and that’s at every facet,” Pelinka said. “It starts with the front office led by me and our ability to construct the right roster. It starts with the coaches holding players accountable and making sure that there’s on-court execution. It goes to our training staff doing everything they can to make sure we have healthy bodies on the court and it goes to our players to play with on-court execution at the highest level because that’s what Lakers fans expect and deserve from all of us.
LeBron James talks about Russell Westbrook and Frank Vogel, looking back on the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers season as the team misses out on playoffs.
“And, so, when you have disappointment, you need to take ownership of that and you need to vow to make the adjustments to be better and that’s where the work starts today.”
There’s plenty to fix.
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