Fittingly, the Lakers ended their disappointing regular season by hosting one of the most awkward interview sessions in recent memory. Just before Frank Vogel met with members of the media, he got wind of a tweet from ESPN’s resident National Basketball Association insider Adrian Wojnarowski announcing that he had been fired as head coach of the purple and gold. Just about everybody else did, as well, and so the queries he got in the aftermath of their first win streak in three months focused on his reaction to the news. There was just one problem, however: He had yet to be officially informed of the front office’s decision to give him the pink slip.
Vogel was understandably nonplussed. He remained composed, but made clear to the assembled throng that “I haven’t been told s–t.” And, in the context of the rare victory without the Lakers’ marquee names on tap, he was right to note that “I’m going to enjoy tonight’s game, celebrate what these young guys did in terms of scratching and clawing and getting back in this game and getting a W, and we’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.” To be sure, he saw the writing on the wall as early as last month, when rumblings from reliable quarters pointed to his exit as inevitable. All the same, he remained classy and knew that, absent formal correspondence to the effect, discussing his departure was tantamount to speculating at the expense of his employers.
Make no mistake. Vogel could not but shoulder part of the blame for presiding over a veritable train wreck. By all accounts, he could have been more forceful off the court and decisive on it. Then again, it wasn’t his fault that the Lakers practically had a revolving door for players. Injury after injury, including those that sidelined top guns LeBron James and Anthony Davis for significant periods, hampered his capacity to build any semblance of momentum. In fact, so handicapped was he that he deployed 39 different starting lineups in 82 contests. And, in a highly competitive league where any given team can win at any given time, the constant patchwork was anything but an ingredient for success.
Not that the Lakers had any choice. Vogel was the first step for them to jump-start any semblance of improvement heading into their 2022-23 campaign. It also happened to be the easiest in light of the need for them to do something — anything — to get going. Subsequent moves are going to be infinitely harder, what with chemistry issues necessitating personnel movements that they have neither the resources nor the leverage to effect.
And therein lies the rub. Considering the state the Lakers are in, the worst is yet to come. James isn’t getting any younger, Davis won’t be more durable, and supposed third star Russell Westbrook remains an anvil — which is to say the real changes that need to be made can’t be made. Little wonder, then, that all and sundry are frustrated. They can’t even dream, let alone dream big.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.