A defense of Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel

Barring a deep playoff run, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is going to be fired only two seasons removed from winning an NBA championship. That’s a real shame for the Lakers. Vogel is an excellent coach.

But that championship was won a long time ago. Vogel is a defensive-minded coach stuck with an aging offensive-minded roster.

He is obviously aware of his perilous job status. This season, he has coached every game as if it might be his last. That is not sustainable for any coach at any sport at any level.

His desire to save his job is why he is constantly changing lineups and rotations. It is why the team’s style of play seemingly changes from game to game.

But what if I am to tell you his biggest mistake was not his questionable rotations?

Frank Vogel’s biggest mistake was letting somebody else coach the Lakers.

According to the LA Times, that “somebody else” is Lakers Senior Advisor Kurt Rambis. After Rambis “advises” Vogel, center Dwight Howard always ends up starting.

The LA Times confirmed this was the case in an article written in January that Rambis had been taking on a larger role in influencing Vogel and the rest of the Lakers coaching staff.

“Rambis then attended the Lakers’ pregame coaches meeting Monday (January 17’s win over the Utah Jazz). Rambis has regularly attended coaching meetings this season and advocated for the Lakers to use more traditional strategies (i.e. starting Howard at center).”

This report is extremely credible. The LA Times is the most reliable source for all Lakers news. The owner of the LA Times is Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who is also a minority owner for the Lakers.

Kurt’s wife Linda also works for the organization and is best friends with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. One report from Bleacher Report even stated that Linda is considered by rival executives as the unofficial owner of the Lakers.

It is safe to say anyone who clashes with Kurt and Linda Rambis will not last long in the Lakers organization. It is pretty obvious that it has come to a point where Vogel has accepted that he will not be coaching the Lakers next season.

Vogel has also clashed with other influential voices with the Lakers organization, front office members and players alike.

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There has been a strong push in the media to bench embattled guard Russell Westbrook, who has by far the worst plus-minus on the team. Almost certainly someone in the Lakers organization is constantly fueling these rumors (maybe Magic Johnson?) as the calls to bench Westbrook started as soon as the season began.

Vogel has refused to bench Westbrook.

Benching him is a decision that is not to be taken lightly. Vogel understands this. He probably feels as if benching him is not suddenly going to save the Lakers season.

Moreover, the ramifications of benching Westbrook might actually hurt the team more. He will obviously not take this demotion well. He has a very strong personality so his adverse reaction will negatively impact everyone else on the team.

If Russell Westbrook had to be benched, he would probably be sent home similar to how the New York Knicks sent Kemba Walker home earlier this season.

And yet the drama persists.

Someone who must have been unhappy with his decision to keep Westbrook in the lineup leaked this information to ESPN’s top NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, who wrote that “sources” told ESPN that Vogel is refusing to bench Westbrook. 

According to Woj’s report, Vogel addressed this issue as of last Friday.

“We have discussions, just like the front office has thousands of trade discussions every deadline, and they don’t discuss every one of those. Most of them don’t come to fruition. And that’s where we’re at with Russ. Is there a path where that’s the better option? We have talked about that. We’ve talked about everything we can do with our team.

“We’re not there.”

There is clearly a division within the Lakers organization as to what to do with Westbrook. If Vogel is defying the front office’s orders, it is a pretty clear sign that he is not coming back next season.

Another sign Vogel is done: he is finally starting the defensive-minded guys he has always wanted to start but didn’t want to at first for fear of what the front office thought.

For instance, Austin Reaves, Malik Monk, and Stanley Johnson combined for 92 minutes in their win against the Golden State Warriors. Reaves and Monk closed out the game alongside Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook.

Most notably, Dwight Howard did not play at all.

Vogel has had to completely change his coaching style and philosophy to get the most out of this aging and deeply flawed roster.

Vogel implemented a small ball lineup with LeBron James at center (what I call Micro Ball 2.0) as a way for LeBron and Russell Westbrook to effectively share the court on offense.

He has given heavy minutes to unheralded young players such as Malik Monk, Austin Reaves, and Stanley Johnson. All three players have a bright Lakers future if the price is right.

So why are we blaming Vogel for the failures of the players and the front office? How come Vogel never gets any credit for developing the Monk/Reaves/Johnson trio into legitimate NBA starters?

Vogel has only played the hand dealt to him.

He did not construct this Lakers roster. He did not push for Lakers GM Rob Pelinka to trade for Westbrook. He is not only playing offense. He is not injured for half of the season.

The blame should be shared between the Lakers front office and Klutch Sports. Whoever wins that blame game is going to have the most power in the Lakers organization for years to come.

And Frank Vogel was always going to be their fall guy.