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Column: Doc Rivers is right choice to replace Frank Vogel as Lakers coach

Doc Rivers gets animated as he argues with referees.
Doc Rivers has guided the 76ers into contention this season. Could he do the same with the Lakers?
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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He covered up the Lakers banners. Get over it.

He ridiculed the Lakers’ appropriation of the Minneapolis championships. Ignore it.

He has hassled the Lakers from down the hall and across the country for years, which would make this proposal seem so outrageous if it didn’t make so much sense.

No coach engenders the animosity of Lakers fans like Doc Rivers.

Yet no coach would be more perfect to lead them.

In the wake of the firing of Frank Vogel on Monday, the Lakers need to leave that seat vacant, take a deep breath, tune into the NBA playoffs, and hope for a chance to call Doc.

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The Lakers fired coach Frank Vogel after a disappointing, injury-plagued season two years after he led the team to the franchise’s 17th NBA title.

April 11, 2022

Rivers is the current coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, with a contract that reportedly stretches out three more years, but two things could happen to change that situation.

First, his team could lose before the NBA Finals. Second, he could then get fired. Both things are distinct possibilities, which would make him available for a job he’s always wanted, in a city he’s always loved, with a team that might just shut up and listen to him.

That’s what the players eventually wouldn’t do for Vogel, and it cost him dearly. He’s a good coach, a good man, and led them to a championship in his first pandemic-shortened season, but in the end, he lost them, mostly because he never had them.

At the first sign of hard times, Vogel didn’t have the credibility to withstand the turmoil. At the first appearance of a divisive personality, he didn’t have the chops to quell a mutiny.

Russell Westbrook showed up, the chemistry went into the tank, and Vogel was cooked.

The Lakers need to think about this fractured equation when searching for Vogel’s replacement. They need to peer into the depths of a locker room that tuned him out. They need to realize that even though he is gone, the problem is still here. James isn’t going anywhere, Anthony Davis probably isn’t going anywhere, and Westbrook might not go anywhere.

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The heart of the roster is not going to change, so the pedigree of the coach must change.

So, yeah, if possible, they should call Doc, the anti-Vogel, the former Clippers boss who will be the ideal curator for what will essentially be the museum of James’ final NBA seasons.

A look at who the Lakers will target in their search to replace Frank Vogel as coach. Doc Rivers, Nick Nurse and Juwan Howard for starters.

April 11, 2022

Rivers has won a championship and coached superstars. They’ll listen to him. Rivers respects greatness and allows it to be great. He’ll listen to them.

Rivers spent seven years coaching in the heart of Los Angeles. In spending so much time trolling the Lakers, he gained a deep understanding of them. He knows their market. He gets their culture.

He is one of the league’s most engaging personalities who will thrive as the face of its most celebrated franchise. He will win every news conference. He will woo every Lakers fan. You hate him now, but that won’t last. You view him as a Clippers’ shill, but you’ll soon forget.

You still have questions. Of course, you have questions.

Rivers couldn’t win a title with Lob City, so how he is going to win with Sob City? That’s the beauty of all this. He doesn’t have to win a title, nobody is going to expect this mess of a team to contend for another championship until James and his franchise chokehold are long gone.

Rivers will keep them competitive. He won’t let them embarrass themselves. He will lead them back to the postseason. That will be enough.

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But then there’s also this: He’s the only coach to blow three separate 3-1 leads in playoff series, so how are they going to trust him in the postseason? Hey, at least he gets to the postseason, failing to qualify only four times in 22 full seasons as a head coach. If any James-led Lakers team can manage to get a 3-1 lead on anyone, Lakers fans should be thrilled enough to take their chances on the coach.

Yeah, if possible, the Lakers should just call Doc.

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.

April 8, 2022

Of course, there are no guarantees the Lakers would ever call Doc.

Given the hall of confusion that stretches through the Lakers’ front office, the search for a new head coach will likely resemble an Easter egg hunt.

Lots of running in haphazard directions. Lots of grabbing and juggling and dropping. Lots of broken eggs.

They’ve already started the process in bush league fashion when news of Vogel’s firing appeared on a website Sunday night before he’d been told. The man guided the Lakers to a championship. He deserved better than to have to read about his future on a smartphone. It was surprising, yet not surprising at all.

The last time the Lakers held a coaching search, they were thoroughly embarrassed by the two leading candidates who went elsewhere to become two of the league’s best coaches.

The Lakers chased Tyronn Lue, but Rob Pelinka or Kurt Rambis or Linda Rambis or James wouldn’t promise him enough security and insisted on populating his coaching staff, so Lue said nah.

The Lakers also chased Monty Williams, who took one look at Rob and Kurt and Linda and LeBron and had no idea who was in charge and said, nah, me neither.

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So they lost both, and guess who met in last year’s Western Conference finals? Of course. Lue and his Clippers against Williams and his Phoenix Suns.

That they were forced to settle on Vogel as their third choice seemed like a lucky break when he won that title in his first season but, face it, everyone knew he was doomed from the start.

Rivers would be the closest thing to a lock. Other early reported candidates don’t quite measure up.

Quin Snyder has Lakers ties and a strong Utah resume, but he’s never won a title, and if he’s having trouble keeping Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert happy, how’s he going to handle this grumpy group?

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.

April 11, 2022

Nick Nurse from Toronto would be ideal, but they’re not letting him go. Former Portland coach Terry Stotts is out there, but there’s not enough superstar credibility there. Juwan Howard’s name has been floated, but, despite his deep James ties, the Michigan coach has never led an NBA team, and the Lakers are set on hiring an experienced NBA coach.

Somebody mentioned Rajon Rondo. Heck, why not have James coach the team?

Somebody else mentioned Lakers assistant David Fizdale, but he only won one out of six games while subbing for COVID-stricken Vogel, so what makes anyone think he can do any better?

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The most fascinating candidate would be Phil Jackson, but who are we kidding, he’s not coming back to the bench at age 76. Besides, he reportedly already coaches the Lakers front office from a distance, just like every other former Lakers star.

The Lakers head coaching vacancy is both a great job and a terrible job, but mostly it’s a specialized job.

Connect with James. Keep the peace. Stop the bleeding.

Call Doc.

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