Editor’s note: When a team underperforms as far as the 2021-22 season Lakers In fact, it is critical that decision makers in the organization not only identify why things went wrong, but incorporate what they learn into future decisions. In this series of articles, Darius Soriano will examine some of the Lakers’ lessons from this season and why they were so instrumental in their downfall. Next, let’s look at how Frank Vogel played a role in his own downfall and what the team can learn from how he got there.
When you end up firing a head coach — especially the one who won you an NBA championship just two seasons before — there’s never a thing which led to the decision. There’s almost always a mix of several factors, big and small, that led those responsible to pull the plug and let that coach go.
Rob Pelinka, then, was deliberately vague when discussing the decision to part ways with Frank Vogel, relying on the snap “we felt it was time to change our voice of leadership” while mixing in a series of compliments on the work Vogel had done during his tenure. Again, this is expected, even if it turned out to be dishonest at the time. But I digress.
Still, while there’s nothing to report, I can imagine that Vogel’s rigidity to his systems and basketball philosophy in the face of a roster that wasn’t equipped to play this way was a major factor in the decision to fire him. The #1 rule for any head coach, in any sport or situation, is to put your players in the best positions for success. All other decisions you make should be based on this fundamental principle. Vogel, beleaguered as he was, and even given the roster limitations placed on him, just didn’t do this to the level he needed to.
In fact, there is an argument to be made that Vogel didn’t sufficiently consider the limitations of this team’s roster, pushing players into his preferred style of play even as the results cried out for him to go in a different direction.
Again, I want to be clear on this point: no one can argue that giving a defensive-minded coach like Vogel’s players the (well-deserved) defensive reputation of Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington and Russell Westbrook is a recipe. for success. In its own way, you set up a trainer to wrestle on the pretext that he is supposed to “fix” those shortcomings, in many cases irreparable in one way or another.
But the hope remains that a coach with Vogel’s defensive savvy would figure out – and quickly – how to get the most out of these players by trying to hide their weaknesses more and/or using less. patterns that require quick decisions, precise readings, and taxing physical game types that amplify their respective weaknesses.
I think back to the Pacers game in January of this season where the Lakers controlled most of the game but lost it in the end due to a fourth quarter run led by Caris LeVert. LeVert had been plagued with foul issues throughout the game and hadn’t found a rhythm at all. But in the final frame, he got an extended run and a steady diet from the Lakers playing in drop covers against pick and rolls. LeVert came off the screen after the screen cleanup and was able to get into the midrange jumpers and then come down on the discs to threaten the paint as Melo and LeBron (and later even Stanley Johnson) got backed into falls cover as he attacked them.
After the game, LeBron, stating the obvious, said LeVert exploited the Lakers game plan in leading the Pacers to a victory. While it wasn’t necessarily said as an indictment of Vogel — sometimes really good players just beat the covers you put up for that game — his words called into question whether the Lakers had the right game plan to start. Especially considering their staff.
If you decide not to play your more traditional big players at all and instead determine that your best chance of winning a game against the Pacers is to deploy a front line that rotates LeBron, Carmelo and Johnson as your main power in forwards and centers, is playing drop coverage the best approach? Should I switch more?
And if you don’t want to change because you’re worried about Domantas Sabonis feasting on your smaller post guards, maybe having a real zone look that you’ve worked on and trust could be a good solution ? Or, maybe you learned how to get out of mismatches between positions and have team traps and double eyes when put in those situations in order to unbalance the opposition?
Or really, something to stop Carmelo Anthony from being your last line of defense?
I’m not here to act like I’m a genius and have all the solutions to get a flawed roster to defend at a high level. NBA coaches are smart and have generally considered all available options. And, again, some issues are really staff related. However, I would say it doesn’t take a genius to see that Lakers players weren’t going to succeed in traditional Vogel schemes because those players, on the whole, just didn’t have the talent, of motor, athleticism, instincts or commitment to perform at the level required for his favorite defensive covers to work.
Yes, we can blame the players for that (and the person who signed those players in the first place). But it’s always up to the coach to be flexible enough to pivot to things that have a better chance of working. Not because there’s an unlockable secret that suddenly turns Carmelo Anthony into a more defender, but because it’s understood he’s likely to never that at allso let’s do everything we can to ensure that he doesn’t get put in the center of the frame by the other team with every possession, putting him in a position to fail repeatedly.
Of course trying to adhere to your patterns there are more ways to struggle than just asking players who might not be able to execute to go out there and try to do it when same. The other side of the coin revolves around which players might be in the best position to execute your plan, even if they aren’t the best players on the roster, or even when they might jeopardize your team’s best chance of success. the other. side of the ball.
This is where Vogel was most wrong. Too many times this season he’s looked to DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard to solve his team’s defensive problems even though – and this applies less to Dwight, but is still relevant – those players weren’t good enough. to execute the request, or their presence in the lineup simply created attacking problems that compromised the team in other ways. Once the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook as their “third star,” the impetus to move to stretchier rosters that focused on offensive spacing was evident. To the extent that you can succeed with Westbrook as a primary contributor, it has to be in a narrow set of circumstances that lean towards his more adamant traits as an offensive force.
Vogel, however, didn’t always take this sufficiently into account – or at least his lineups didn’t reflect that. Too many nights at the start of the season, Jordan started alongside Anthony Davis and LeBron, putting Westbrook in the proverbial phone booth offensively in the hopes that this larger group could mold themselves into the 2020 title team. and lock in defensively. The presence of Avery Bradley in the lineup – with or without Jordan’s starting team – further reinforced this idea.
Of course, Jordan’s lack of motor and general foot speed doomed these groups defensively, while the tight spacing of play that many non-shooters led to Westbrook being a low-impact player in the half-court offensively. Whatever benefits were hoped for by reaching out to these types of groups, they never really materialized and instead the team only felt the negatives of these queues.
Of course, it would be dishonest to ignore how many injuries and general roster construction put the team on this path to begin with and impacted Vogel’s decision-making in the process. To start the season, injuries to Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker left the team’s frontcourt depth barren, leading to the idea that Jordan would have to play first if the team wanted to keep the appearance of a routine rotation throughout the course. of the full season.
Additionally, as roles became established and the team committed to trying to replicate the strengths of the title-winning team, as injuries and COVID compromised the availability of players, it was difficult to return to an entirely different style while still managing the locker room and maintaining membership. Once one has embarked on a particular path, it is very difficult to accomplish a trajectory correction of the magnitude that would have been necessary.
But it also goes back to the idea of flexibility and the need to see some of these potential solutions earlier in the process. Vogel, for all his real strengths as a head coach and his true ability to maximize a roster that suits him well, didn’t see the alternative path soon enough. And, even when he started to change and show that kind of flexibility, when things went wrong, he was quick to guess and get back into his comfort zone. A great example was going back to a two-man formation with Dwight and AD from when AD returned from his ankle injury at the end of the season rather than just plugging Davis into the formula who had shown some semblance of recovery. unit over the previous weeks.
In the end, Vogel had to coach the team he had rather than the team he wanted (or, really, should have been given). And (at least in part) because he didn’t, he’s no longer the head coach at all. Moving forward, the Lakers therefore not only need an alignment between their next head coach and the front office on the types of players to acquire, but should also prioritize the type of coach who can be a bit more flexible and agile when the need to change course is so clear.
Otherwise, they are simply doomed to repeat the same mistakes of last season.
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