The embarrassing process that led to the Los Angeles Lakers hiring of head coach Frank Vogel effectively ended all optimism about the new manager on the sidelines. While fair to question the events that led to the ultimate conclusion of the month-long search to replace Luke Walton, Vogel is decidedly a solid hire and someone who could potentially lead the Lakers to their first playoff berth since 2013.
As Vogel embarks on his newest era, his third head coaching job in the NBA, it helps to know as much as possible about the man charged with rebounding from the disappointment of LeBron James’ first season in LA.
Vogel first came onto the scene as head coach of the Indiana Pacers in 2010, replacing Jim O’Brien after a 17-27 start. Before that, he held video coordinator and assistant coaching jobs with the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Pacers.
His tenure in Indiana was immediately successful. He was able to turn the season around enough to reach the playoffs as O’Brien’s replacement and ultimately made the postseason in four out of his five full seasons as their head coach. In fact, the only season in which they did not make the playoffs was when Paul George missed all but six games due to a broken leg suffered during the summer.
The Pacers made two conference finals under Vogel, losing to James and the Miami Heat both times. While unable to get past their main rivals, the Pacers were generally the only team to stand a chance against the Heat dynasty in the Eastern Conference, taking them to seven games in 2013.
Vogel was fired by Larry Bird and the Pacers in 2016 as they sought a new voice in the locker room. He finished his career in Indiana with a 250-181 record in the regular season and a 31-30 record in the postseason.
The head coach latched onto the Orlando Magic immediately and had far less success in just two years with the rebuilding squad, to the tune of a 54-110 record. The Magic’s propulsion into the playoffs in the year after they fired Vogel may shine a poor light on him but injuries and unbalanced roster construction never truly gave him a good chance. For example, in the 2017-18 season, the Magic’s top four players in VORP (not a tell-all stat but just used as a baseline for this exercise) all played fewer than 60 games. The fifth was D.J. Augustin.
Vogel’s time in both Indiana and Orlando included fairly small coaching staffs of about three or four assistants per year. For context, Luke Walton had six assistant coaches in his last year with the Lakers.
That said, some of Vogel’s connections could be figures that emerge on his staff in LA and they may provide some insight on how he will fill out his staff alongside Jason Kidd. With Vogel providing honest feedback and self-awareness on his own limitations, it should provide encouragement that he will attack this challenge with an eye on filling out a talented and experienced staff.
Brian Shaw: Shaw was hired by the Pacers in 2011 to be Frank Vogel’s top assistant as an experienced coach on the staff. In doing so, he left Phil Jackson and the Lakers, working in Indiana until 2013 before becoming the Denver Nuggets’ head coach. Shaw eventually ended up back with the Lakers as Luke Walton’s associate head coach but it’s unclear if he will continue to have a role in LA after the head coach’s dismissal.
Dan Burke: Burke both preceded and outlasted Vogel in Indiana, serving as an assistant coach and director of scouting from 2002. Like Vogel, he got his start as a video coordinator with the Portland Trail Blazers before jumping up the ranks. While there is not a lot of information out there about the 59-year-old, he has been credited with being a defensive coordinator for the Pacers who have been in the top half of the league defensively in all but one year of his tenure.
Dick Harter: Harter was the most experienced coach on Vogel’s staff, having started his career in Detroit in 1983. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012.
Jim Boylen: Boylen only spent two years in Indiana during his long assistant coaching career starting from the ’90s. He is currently the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, having signed an extension after taking over from Fred Hoiberg.
Nate McMillan: Another defensive minded coach known for slow-paced offenses, McMillan replaced Vogel after the latter was fired. While his Team USA experience with LeBron James (and Jason Kidd) would be valuable for the Lakers, it is safe to assume he will not be leaving Indiana anytime soon.
Popeye Jones: The former player was hired by Vogel and the Pacers in 2013 and has remained on the staff since then. Vogel described him as a player-development coach focusing on the team’s big men when he was hired but also praised his Xs and Os.
Chad Forcier: Forcier is arguably the most coveted (and realistic) option for Frank Vogel to bring back to his staff. His long coaching career most notably includes a nine-year tenure with the San Antonio Spurs between 2007 and 2016, where his player development responsibilities were heavily credited for Kawhi Leonard’s monumental rise from raw prospect to superstar. Forcier joined the Grizzlies after Vogel was fired by Orlando, but has since left the team after the firing of J.B. Bickerstaff.
Here’s what Gregg Popovich had to say about Forcier’s role on the Spurs:
“First of all he’s wonderful at his job and he understands the characteristics necessary to be successful on the court, and that can be Os and Xs or developing a player,” said Popovich, who hired Forcier following his first two stints in the NBA with the Pacers and Pistons. “He was important in looking at what we did offensively. Defensively, he made suggestions while doing the development job for us. He’d always make a little tweak here or there with some play that I’d have and talk about how this can be made better. So he’s creative in that sense.
“As far as knowing what a player needs, you can look at someone like Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard and see the effect that he’s had on those guys,” Popovich continued. “So he’s kind of got the whole package. And when you see the enthusiasm and the love of the game that he shows consistently day after day – win or lose – he’s a pretty special guy.”
Corliss Williamson: Williamson is a younger coach, having joined the NBA ranks as an assistant for the Kings in 2013 after a short and unsuccessful college coaching career. He was with Vogel for both of his two years in Orlando.
David Adelman: The son of former NBA coach Rick Adelman, David was with Frank Vogel for only one year in Orlando before joining the Nuggets staff. There is not a lot of information about his role in Orlando but Adelman is mostly known as a player development coach.
Anthony Wade: Wade’s only coaching experience has been as a special assistant to the head coach in Orlando from 2012 to 2018.
Jay Hernandez: Now with the Hornets, Hernandez was first hired by the Magic in 2014 as a player development coach. He was later promoted to an assistant coaching position in 2014 while also spending time working with the organization’s G-League affiliate. Hernandez has a long history as a trainer dating back to 2001 and has worked with future All-Stars like Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris. Walker, who has worked with Hernandez since his pre-draft workouts and is now on the same team as him, had the following to say about the coach:
“We have a special connection,” Walker says. “His workouts are just amazing. A lot of these workout guys, the new guys I see on social media, he’s been doing that. He can actually do the stuff he’s teaching. He’s unbelievable at this stuff. He’ll do the move, boom, boom, boom, perfect, and make the shot. He played, he knows, he understands. I got a lot of respect for that man. I gotta give him a lot of credit for a lot of my success as well.”
Matt Hill: Now with the Hawks, Hill spent two years as Vogel’s assistant coach in Orlando. He previously was a video analyst for the Magic, following Vogel’s own footsteps into a coaching career. The 30-year-old has a strong relationship with Kevin Durant due to their Texas Longhorns ties.
Defense is where Frank Vogel has made his mark his whole career. In Indiana, the head coach was at the helm of some of the best defensive teams in the league year after year. In fact, the Pacers never dipped below tenth in the NBA in defensive rating in each of his five full years and were the number one defense in two straight years.
That said, even a three-year break since his last season with the Pacers is enough to change the scope of the league. The basis of Vogel’s defenses was a reliance on Roy Hibbert to protect the rim with his famed “verticality.” A few years later and Hibbert has effectively been shunned out of the league as lumbering centers become less and less of a reality in the NBA.
Fortunately, Vogel has spoken at length about the need to evolve and adjust as the sport does, even near the end of his tenure with Indiana.
Following via Candace Buckner of the Indy Star:
“I’ve had to unlearn a lot of what I’ve believed in with offensive spacing because of the way the league plays today,” Vogel said. “That’s a challenge on the defensive end as well.
“So I’ve enjoyed this breaking (of) the mold.”
At the time, those changes included moving C.J. Miles to his now more natural power forward position to space the floor and trusting a rookie Myles Turner as a starter. Here’s what center Ian Mahinmi had to say about Vogel’s adaptations:
“You grow as a player and in this case you grow as a coach,” said Mahinmi, who has played under Vogel since the 2012-13 season. “Now he’s more … I don’t want to say open-minded, but he’s more willing to make changes and doesn’t really hesitate. He just goes with it and figures it out. That’s just good to see.”
Vogel also spoke about his defensive philosophy after he was introduced as the Lakers’ head coach, noting that he wants to build his defense “inside-out” by protecting the paint first. He also maintained that most teams switch defensively too often and that while the Lakers will rely on it at times, he wants to eliminate unnecessary switching. That was an issue at times with Luke Walton’s defenses despite their statistical success in the last two years.
Offensively, Vogel has far more limitations; only one of his seasons with the Pacers ended in the top half of the league in offensive rating. They played slow, methodical basketball and when they weren’t relying on isolations from Paul George, Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson, they often played an archaic inside-out brand of basketball. The likes of David West and Luis Scola were major hubs of offense in Indiana.
The year in which the Pacers took the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, the team’s leaders in usage rate, in order, were: David West, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Gerald Green and Tyler Hansbrough. The following year when the team won 56 games and was the top team in the East, their usage rate leaders were Paul George, Luis Scola, David West, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert. (Note that Granger played fewer than 30 games in both of those seasons).
Fortunately, Vogel has said all the right things about his offensive plan as well. Most notably he spoke after his press conference about how he envisioned the Lakers’ shot profile to look: prioritizing layups, free throws, corner threes, above the break threes, and midrange jumpers in that order.
Vogel’s evolution offensively will be interesting to monitor. The Pacers were not incredibly talented on that end of the floor, especially with Granger’s injuries, so Vogel had to rely on a balanced attack. The Lakers have a true superstar forward and, if things break right, could have a second star. How Vogel gives his top players the right number of touches while keeping the Lakers’ young players engaged and in the flow of the offense could dictate the team’s success.
Frank Vogel’s time as a video coordinator has made him into as film-oriented of a coach as you can find in the NBA. With a young team that will have to play through mistakes but learn how to fix them quickly, that will be a critical component of his job. It may be notable that despite some early road bumps, the coach with whom LeBron James has had the most team success, Erik Spoelstra, also got his start as a video coordinator.
But Vogel also is receptive to analytics, something he claimed will be a big part of his coaching with the Lakers at his press conference. The Lakers have lagged behind the rest of the league in this department for years but Vogel’s desire to use them may influence the organization to put more money into expanding their analytics resources.
Frank Vogel mentioned at his press conference (and it has been brought up by media members, as well) that he spent his year away from coaching to visit other teams to learn more about their coaches’ philosophies and tactics. The list of names, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, included Boston’s Brad Stevens and Utah’s Quin Snyder.