LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers fired Frank Vogel on Monday, choosing their championship-winning head coach to earn the first fall of one of the most disappointing seasons in NBA history.
Los Angeles vastly underperformed this season, finishing 33-49 and missing the 10-team Western Conference playoffs in a humbling conclusion to a year that began with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and a veteran-laden supporting cast widely expected to contend for another championship.
Vogel was fired exactly 18 months after leading the Lakers to the 17th franchise title in his first season in charge. Almost nothing went well in the two seasons that followed for the rosters assembled by general manager Rob Pelinka and coached by Vogel, who went 127-98 in his three seasons in charge. He was under contract until next season.
“Frank is a great coach and a good man,” Pelinka said in a statement. “We will be forever grateful to him for his work in guiding us to the 2019-20 NBA Championship. It’s an incredibly difficult decision to make, but we think it’s necessary at this point.
ESPN reported Vogel’s impending dismissal immediately after the Lakers ended the season by beating Denver in overtime on Sunday night. In an awkward post-match press conference, Vogel admitted he had not yet been briefed on the club’s decision before it was leaked to ESPN.
It was a dismal and embarrassing end to a tenure that started out huge for Vogel, the former Orlando and Indiana coach. The Lakers won a title in the Florida bubble in October 2020, but did not win another playoff round in the following two seasons.
Los Angeles has never looked like a championship team this season despite trading Westbrook and signing Anthony to play alongside James and Davis. The Lakers stumbled nearly .500 until Jan. 7, when they entered a 10-30 slump exacerbated by Davis’ last long injury absence.
Despite another impressive season from James, 37, the Lakers have never gelled this season with a roster that includes nine players over 30 and 11 players who weren’t with the team last season. Davis only managed to play 40 of their 82 games, while Westbrook struggled to fit into the Lakers’ team concept during one of the worst seasons of his professional career.
After so many pre-season ballads around the team of James, Davis and Westbrook, the trio only managed to play 21 games together – and went 11-10. The Lakers have used 41 different starting formations.
“At the end of the day, the reason we weren’t very good together was that we weren’t on the fucking floor together,” James said. “You never had the chance to see what the ball club could be.”
Although Vogel remained publicly confident in his ability to solve the problems created by injuries and two years of assembling the high-risk roster, the coach never offered cohesive solutions to Los Angeles’ woes.
But while Vogel received a lot of criticism for his curious decisions on player rotations and his lack of an offensive game plan, the biggest problem for the Lakers during Vogel’s last two seasons was Davis’ inability to stay in. healthy.
The eight-time All-Star big man has been dominant in the bubble, but Davis has played in just 76 of the Lakers’ 154 games over the past two seasons while battling several major injury issues.
James has also struggled with injuries for the past two years, appearing in just 101 games. He played in just one of the Lakers’ last eight games this season due to a sprained ankle, and Los Angeles was knocked out of the playoffs during that streak despite Davis returning after a no-show. six weeks for three games late.
James spoke to the media Monday morning before Vogel’s fate was revealed by the Lakers front office.
“I respect Frank as a coach, as a man,” James said. “Our partnership that we’ve had over the few years here has been nothing but great, candid conversations. He’s a guy who gives his all to the game and has prepared us every night. … I don’t know what’s going to happen with Frank here, but I have nothing but respect for him.
Vogel was hired in May 2019 to build a cohesive team around James and Davis, who was officially acquired from New Orleans two months later. Vogel’s plans worked right away: his first team weathered the NBA’s coronavirus shutdown and then won a ringside, with Vogel leading a deep and defensively dominating group to the title.
Pelinka has changed that league slate drastically since then, and the results have been abysmal. Less than a full calendar year after the bubble triumph, only James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker remained on the roster to start this season – with Dwight Howard, who left the team and returned.
Los Angeles went 42-30 last season while battling serious injuries to Davis and James before losing to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.
The dismissal of Vogel is the first change after this complete failure of the aging high-risk roster and a team-building strategy chosen by Pelinka, Kobe Bryant’s former agent. He took control of Lakers basketball decisions after Magic Johnson’s abrupt departure in 2019.
Pelinka dismantled the entire support structure of the Lakers championship supporting cast last summer when he allowed Alex Caruso to leave for Chicago and then traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma for Westbrook. Pelinka hoped to build a Big Three of elite talent that would be supplemented by low-cost veterans instead of homegrown Lakers.
Instead, Pelinka’s moves forced Vogel to rebuild his defense from scratch with inferior defensive players. The Lakers haven’t come close to matching the defensive success of the last two teams, finishing 21st in the defensive rankings after being a top-three team in Vogel’s first two seasons, and their offensive performance hasn’t been close to catching up with him.
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