The Lakers’ odd relationship with Frank Vogel

Frank Vogel
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

UPDATE (09/27/21): Bill Oram, Shams Charania, and Sam Amick of The Athletic have reported that the Lakers and Frank Vogel agreed to a one-year extension, keeping him as head coach of the team through the 2022-23 season. This backs up the previous reporting from the original story below.

Original story:

Following the formal introduction of their free-agent signings in the early days of this month, the Lakers gave us one last bit of good news to end the day, stating that they had agreed to a contract extension with head coach Frank Vogel. The news was elating, as Vogel’s contract was due to expire following the 2021-22 season. Without a contract extension this offseason, Vogel would have entered the season as a “lame duck” — a term usually used in politics for a president or elected official entering the final period of being in office. The stress of Vogel entering this season with that pressure — a season with enough external pressure as it is — would have possibly proved a situation that was too volatile for the team to return to the NBA Finals.

The Lakers avoided that extra stress for this upcoming season, but recent reports seem to indicate that they may be going through the same exact situation next year.

As Marc Stein noted in his Substack (h/t to Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll), some members of coaching circles around the NBA presume that Vogel only received a one-year extension onto his existing three-year deal that was to conclude after this upcoming season.

It should be said that Stein notes that this is only a presumption from coaches around the NBA that are most likely not even connected to the Lakers. However, the idea of him only receiving one additional year to his contract lines up with previous reports this summer as well as the fact that they only gave him a three-year contract to begin with.

The Lakers’ season ended on June 3rd when they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. On June 25th, the OC Register’s Kyle Goon reported that some within the Lakers’ organization were “surprised” that an extension with Frank Vogel hadn’t been completed yet. It took over a month after that for the Lakers to put those murmurs to bed, as the extension was announced on August 6th. With Vogel stating in his 2021 exit interview that he hoped “to be a Laker for life”, that timeline of reports and the recent report regarding the one-year extension indicate that the Lakers are not ready to commit to Vogel in a long-term way.

Vogel also stated in his exit interview that he loved the organization, but who knows how he feels now? After negotiations between his agent and the Lakers resulted in only a one-year extension, maybe Vogel and his agent finally agreed to the deal thinking they could just leave for a more incentivized, long-term deal in 2022 with another team that puts greater value into his accomplishments with the Lakers.

As Marc Stein pointed out in a previous newsletter from his Substack, Vogel is one of nine active coaches to have won a championship. One of those active coaches includes the Clippers’ head coach Tyronn Lue who also won a ring with LeBron James during their time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Looking back, you’ll remember that Lue was originally set to be hired by the Lakers in 2019 for their head coaching vacancy, with Vogel set to be his lead assistant. That deal fell through, with it being reported afterward that Lue’s representatives declined the Lakers’ three-year deal that they later gave to Vogel as Lue’s team was looking for a five-year deal — a deal that was much deserved for a coach only three years removed from winning a championship at that time.

CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 27: Tyronn Lue # of the Cleveland Cavaliers yells to his players during the first half against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 27, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Lue is now the head coach of the Clippers after serving one year as their top assistant under Doc Rivers during the 2019-20 season. The length of the deal given to him prior to the start of the 2020-21 season? Five years.

That means Lue is guaranteed five years of payment for his previous championship coaching experience as well as serving as an assistant for one of the funniest playoff collapses I can remember in recent memory. Frank Vogel won a championship less than a year ago at the time of this article, and between his original deal and his extension, the Lakers have STILL only committed four years to him.

It seems utterly insulting to compare Vogel and Lue’s current situations, and that doesn’t even take into account what Vogel has done for the Lakers on the court (you know, other than that championship thing). Sure, it’s easy to win championships with LeBron James on your team, but it’s not easy to build a defensive juggernaut around LeBron. In Lue’s three seasons as LeBron’s head coach in Cleveland, the Cavs finished 10th, 21st, and 29th in Defensive Rating. And yeah, the Cavs didn’t have an All-Defensive Team anchor in Anthony Davis, but Vogel didn’t either for nearly three months of last season. Even with AD (and LeBron) out for that long period of time, the team still finished the season with the best DRTG in the league.

I’m not here to belittle Lue’s successes. He deserved the five year deal with the Clippers as much as I believe Vogel deserved one from the Lakers. However, I do believe that having an elite defense around a healthy LeBron — even at his old age — may provide the Lakers with a bit of a cheat code against the rest of the NBA. We saw it happen literally less than a year ago.

I just wish the Lakers shared my confidence and valuation of Frank Vogel. However, the least they could do is show him respect in comparison to the rest of the league and how they treat their head coaches.

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