As rumors of Frank Vogel’s job security as head coach of a tumultuous and disappointing Los Angeles Lakers team continue to swirl, we are learning more about the structure of the organization, including the role of Kurt Rambis within it.
Rambis, a former Laker who has had an important but unclear role in the organization since Jeanie Buss took over the franchise from her brother, Jim, is currently listed as a “senior basketball advisor.” While that role implies a position in the Lakers’ front office, it appears that Rambis fancies himself as a contributor among the coaching staff, as well.
According to the LA Times’ Dan Woike and Brad Turner, Rambis, who typically calls into Lakers’ coaching meetings, sat in on one on Monday following the Lakers’ embarrassing loss to the Denver Nuggets. Not only did Rambis observe the team’s head coach who, according to both the LA Times’ and The Athletic, may have been coaching for his job in the win against the Utah Jazz on Monday, but Rambis took it upon himself to give lineup suggestions to the coaching staff he presumably helped hire. Those suggestions notably included asking Vogel to play bigger lineups including Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan.
This new information comes as no surprise from an organization that has routinely shown no support for the head coach that led them to their first championship in a decade in just his first year on the job. From offering just a three-year contract to accept the job, to adding just one year in an extension less than a year removed from the title run, to completely revamping a roster that no longer fits what Vogel does best, the organization has failed Vogel every step of the way, no matter how you feel about his actual accomplishments or lack thereof in that time.
Rambis – whose own coaching career came to a grinding and embarassing halt – interjecting during these meetings is just further evidence of the lack of respect the Lakers organization has shown towards their coach. Rather than allowing him the freedom to coach his team how he sees fit, they are pushing him towards using two of the players – especially a far-past-his-prime Jordan – who have exemplified the numerous issues with how this Lakers roster was constructed in the first place almost as if to absolve themselves of blame for sabotaging Vogel before the season even began.
Vogel surely sees the writing on the wall, as well. It’s no coincidence that he spent a portion of his pregame press conference on Monday to talk about the “tireless” work of his staff in navigating the abundant obstacles that have hurt this Lakers team this season. Vogel has previously made slight mentions of the roster construction with sly comments about the players he has at his disposal and perhaps showing unhappiness at certain decisions the front office made in building the team around LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. But on Monday, his comments seemed more than ever about having earned respect and the benefit of the doubt with his accomplishments thus-far.
Following transcribed by the LA Times:
“The coaching staff works tirelessly, OK, both in analyzing our postgame, meeting with our players individually to show them ways that they have to be better, to reinforce ways that they were great, and they work tirelessly in putting together game plans,” Vogel said.
“And the game plans, the margin for error is more slim. We’ve got to be tight with all these coverages that go into it. And we know how to build an elite defense. Hasn’t taken form quite yet with this group, but the work is still being put in. And when you work at something, you’re going to improve.”
It’s absolutely certain that Vogel has not done a stellar job with the hand he’s been dealt this season. It’s also absolutely certain that very few could have done a significantly better job. Between the flaws in the roster, the injuries to key players including James, Davis, and Kendrick Nunn who is yet to play in the regular season, and a COVID outbreak, Vogel has never had the fluidity necessary to build his team the way he envisions it.
And now, he may never get the chance to do so. The pressure placed by failed executives who have risen to the top through sheer nepotism to leave their fingerprints on coaching decisions coupled with what feels like an almost inevitable firing barring a miracle once Davis returns to the lineup from his knee sprain, make it difficult to see a happy ending for Frank Vogel.