Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is no stranger to the grind of NBA contention. He’s also familiar with being the underdog and forgotten. Regarded as a fallback hire, he’s led the Lakers to a 59-12 record and the top-seed in the Western Conference. So often we give the credit to the players in big moments, but we forget about the coaches. These are the people who put the man-hours of watching film, drawing up sets, and losing sleep the night before facing superstars. He’s the epitome of a true coach’s coach, making the leap from video coordinator to the front of the bench.
To have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on your roster is not enough. It takes the handling of egos and heavy conversations. You have to be able to handle the whispers when things go left. Are you in over your head? Do you really have control of the team? Vogel has been there and done that plus more. He has an obsession with the game that’s identical to that of LeBron. The two are in sync and historically, that’s been a challenge for many coach’s first outing with him.
He was penalized for having LeBron James and Anthony Davis when it came to Coach of the Year. Despite their combined massive talent, it’s not easy giving a team of this caliber an identity. The Lakers are a gritty team as much as they are as Hollywood as many believe. All of that is a credit to Coach Vogel.
His development of the likes of Paul George and Roy Hibbert into all-stars gave the Indiana Pacers basketball a second wind of deep playoff success. He also managed to turn Lance Stephenson into a championship level shooting guard. Ironically, he was one of the few teams to take LeBron and the Miami Heat to the brink at the peak of their powers. Of the four teams left, Vogel is behind Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (129) with 72 playoff games played. That’s a lot of basketball.
You ever watch a game and see an adjustment that catches your eye? I find myself doing this during most Lakers games. It’s a testament to the attention to detail by Vogel. We saw him use aggressive traps against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He even broke out a zone defense to slow down the micro-ball Houston Rockets. Now against the Denver Nuggets, he’s shown the willingness to change starters mid-game switching out Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.
He’s never married to one style which makes him a perfect match with this roster. The Lakers don’t have a third wheel behind AD and LeBron, but they have role players that are tailor-made for Vogel’s gameplans. When things looked to be trending down for veterans like Danny Green and Rajon Rondo, Vogel kept his belief. The reinforcement behind those guys is what’s driven their success this season.
He’s leaned on Alex Caruso and even Talen Horton-Tucker at times, two of the team’s players that spent much of their early careers with the South Bay Lakers. When many coaches would bring them along slow, Vogel put them in the fire at crucial junctures. Only a personal level of trust would be the driving force of this decision.
From top to bottom, Vogel has been the glue for a roster of pieces that many pundits questioned to start the year. With a lot of basketball left to be played, he can put himself in position to make his first NBA Finals run and bring the Lakers back to glory. What he is doing on this stage is the stuff of legends. I’m sure that he knows this deep down inside, but we all have a chance to recognize it as well.