Give benefit of the doubt to Frank Vogel

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The latest twist for the Lakers came about on Saturday afternoon, as the team finally ended a chaotic search for a new coach. A month after Luke Walton officially left the team, the Lakers reached an agreement to hire Frank Vogel as their head coach, and Jason Kidd will serve on his staff as an assistant.

Several coaches had rejected the Lakers offer. With the offer still on the table, Vogel accepted the deal from a celebrated franchise that can say it has found a coach. He has never had a bigger challenge. So a major challenge for him going forward is developing some of the best young talent on the Lakers’ roster. He brings with him a wealth of experience and a winning culture honed over the years as the Pacers coach.

It had to be someone who understands today’s players, and someone who can deal with LeBron James especially. In six seasons with the Pacers, Vogel went 250-181 with five playoff appearances. Despite coming off a 54-110 tenure in just two seasons with the Magic, he has proven himself to be a capable leader for a team. Unemployed for a short time, the New Jersey native landed a job on the West Coast with the Lakers in no time.

In two lengthy interviews during the search process, the Lakers were very impressed with him. The Lakers’ senior advisor Kurt Rambis, along with his wife, Linda, had a lot of influence in the Vogel hiring. They flirted with the idea of interviewing him and strongly considered his candidacy. Put it bluntly, Rob Pelinka and Rambis were left with no choice but to take Plan C.

But it’s more to it. If anyone is convinced Vogel is ready for what he’s getting himself into with the Lakers, it is basketball’s legendary coach Phil Jackson. He seemingly remains in close contact with Jeanie Buss, and helped Vogel get another crack at a job.

This was a game-changer for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in six years. This is Vogel’s moment right now to reinvent himself and hopefully right the ship for a team that lost a legend as their team president. In his inaugural season, immediate pressure will be put on him to orchestrate the team’s rise to title contention.

If Vogel doesn’t ultimately pan out, however, the Lakers will more than likely make his wingman the head coach. Kidd is patiently and quietly waiting next in line. He has been showered with praise and is universally respected by some, especially by James. In 2008, they won a gold medal together at the Olympics and radiated positive vibes. Kidd genuinely connected with his teammates and his strong leadership formed an on-court bond.

But Vogel’s success in Indiana hasn’t gone unnoticed around the league. When the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals twice in 2013 and ’14, it was his defensive focus and his team’s brute physicality that catapulted to a higher profile.

It made him one of the league’s well-regarded coaches—a reminder that he has created an amazing atmosphere before. Maybe his winning formula could actually work with the Lakers. Vogel puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor and relates to young players exceptionally well.

He wasn’t their first choice but he surely works, regardless of how James feels about his coach. In looking at his coaching resume, it’s important to remember that his stacks up with some of the familiar faces around the league. But the task of reconstructing the Lakers is complicated and it will be more difficult for him than his previous two jobs.

The rest of the puzzle pieces could come together around James and Vogel, but still the Lakers have a lot of work to do. This changing landscape is huge for Pelinka, who has a busy summer. This offseason, as much as they believe they could get it done, they know they have to land the prizes of the free agency class for Vogel to succeed.

The problem is, the Lakers haven’t gotten better around James. The priority is for Pelinka to give Vogel a supply of talent to stock up his roster. They have to respond quickly to extinguish a dumpster fire and get rid of the burnt smell detected by Laker fans.

Not since April 28, 2013, have the Lakers been in the hunt for a playoff spot. They haven’t seen the postseason since the  Spurs completed the sweep of them. The players, their fans, their city and their legends are hopeful Vogel and his staff, along with James, quickens the development of their promising bunch.

It was a pretty good hire, right? As for Vogel, he has a proven track record. Hallelujah! But again, for him to be successful, the Lakers have to be well-equipped to contend. The way they shot the ball, they need to plug the hole at point guard. Aware of their poor shooting, they definitely could use a perennial scorer, such as Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson.

Expectations, by now, have been raised. But if they can get the same Vogel from Indiana, this could result in a turnaround for the Lakers. Best of all, he turns out to be a key component of facilitating team building and a sense of direction. Worst of all, he turns out to be a bust for a franchise looking for yet another championship run.

Let’s wait and see.

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Jonathan Mathis as known as The Sports Judge is the founder of SoCalChronicle. He is a professional Sports writer, contributor, Youtuber, podcaster @ ASAP Network, and co-host of Gonzo & The Judge Sports Talk. Follow the SportsJudge@


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