Lakers coach Frank Vogel shrugged off widespread reports of his job insecurity Wednesday night, saying it’s all part of being in charge of a 17-time NBA champion franchise.
“In this business and with this team, if you’re not winning at a super-high level, you’re going to get this type of noise,” Vogel said before the Lakers hosted the Indiana Pacers. “I’m good at blocking it out. I feel good about the job we’re doing, and obviously we believe the results are going to come. But over the course of an 82-game season with a new group, you’re going to have some ugly nights.”
Several news outlets with ties to the Lakers’ front office reported Tuesday that Vogel’s job is in serious jeopardy after his reconfigured roster’s 22-22 start to the season. Vogel was reportedly close to being fired if Los Angeles hadn’t responded to a 37-point blowout loss in Denver last Saturday with an impressive win over the high-scoring Utah Jazz on Monday.
Vogel won a championship ring just 15 months ago when he led a deep, defensively dominant team headlined by LeBron James and Anthony Davis to a title in the Florida bubble. General manager Rob Pelinka has eviscerated that championship roster in the 13 months since last season began, with only James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker remaining.
Vogel is 116-69 in his 2 1/2 seasons since taking over the Lakers in May 2019, but the former Orlando and Indiana boss knows the only thing that matters in Hollywood is what comes next. With his injury-plagued roster finally edging close to full health, Vogel said he’s confident Los Angeles can still become a title contender.
Vogel said he met with Lakers executives after the loss to Denver and again after the win over Utah, just as he does after every single game.
“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said. “It’s not hard to do my job. I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way. It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not. It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers’ coach. We have high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market. I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best, and to command excellence of our group. That’s what we command of ourselves.”
These Lakers have been wildly inconsistent, alternating nights of excellence with many more nights of ineptitude and inconsistency. With nine players over 30 years old and 11 current regulars who were not on the team last season, Los Angeles has hovered near .500 all year, never getting more than three games above the mark.
Since mid-December alone, the Lakers have had a three game winning streak followed by a five-game losing streak, and a four-game winning streak followed by a three-game skid that ended with Los Angeles’ win over the Jazz. Vogel pointed to that defensive performance as evidence his plans can still work.
“It was a lesson of what we can be,” Vogel said. “We have the ability. We took the No. 1 offense in the league and held them to 96 points because we were extremely focused and played with effort and toughness. … We have to do it on a nightly basis, and we’re going to build the habits necessary to win a championship.”
If Vogel can keep his job until the Lakers are fully healthy, they might finally know whether he’s right.
The oft-injured Davis has missed 14 games since Dec. 17 with a sprained left knee, only recently returning to on-court work. James has missed 11 games with various ailments, and major COVID-19 setbacks affected the Lakers along with numerous smaller injuries.
Pelinka disassembled the remnants of the Lakers’ championship supporting cast last summer when he allowed Alex Caruso to leave and then traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma for Russell Westbrook, hoping to build a Big Three of veteran talent alongside James and Davis.
But the former NBA MVP is off to a mediocre start with his hometown team. Westbrook is averaging 18.6 points — the 14-year veteran’s lowest mark since his second NBA season — and is third in the NBA with 4.3 turnovers per game, an incredible number coming at crucial moments for his up-and-down club.
Vogel has emphatically backed Westbrook, and his players have been uniformly behind him in public.
“I feel good about what we’re doing with our team, and don’t feel good always about the results,” Vogel said. “But I believe in what we can do this year, and so (I’m) steadfastly remaining focused on the task at hand.”
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