The Los Angeles Lakers begin a six-game road trip and the biggest question facing the woebegone team is whether Frank Vogel returns to L.A. as the head coach.
Already on the hottest of seats in the brightest of NBA lights, Vogel’s job security took another hit after the Lakers dropped a 111-104 home game to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday – a game in which the Lakers led by 15 late in the first quarter and were outplayed in the fourth quarter.
Given the state of the Lakers – 22-23 and clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference – changes are coming, and while roster improvement are necessary, the Lakers have limited options in that area.
Firing Vogel, unfair as it may be, might be the Lakers’ best option for jumpstarting a mediocre team.
This is not advocating for Vogel’s dismissal – he doesn’t deserve to be fired for the poor roster construction given to him by the front office led by general manager Rob Pelinka – but the Lakers need to do something with a team that is 24th in offensive rating, 20th in defensive rating and 23rd in net rating.
Vogel just might end up the scapegoat, and that’s just the way it goes in a cutthroat business. But the guy who coached the Lakers to a title in 2020 is not a worse coach in 2022.
This is just ridiculous. He won a championship less than 2 years ago. The Lakers have had injuries and a roster that, to be kind, has some flaws. Firing Frank would just be an attempt to scapegoat Frank for the mistakes others have made.
— Stan Van Gundy (@realStanVG) January 18, 2022
Los Angeles started the season with championship aspirations following a trade for Russell Westbrook. With less than half the season remaining, the Lakers are far from a championship team. They’re barely a playoff team.
This is not what the Lakers expected when LeBron James decided to join the franchise in 2018: no playoffs, championship, first-round playoff loss and whatever comes of this season. It’s difficult seeing the Lakers putting together any kind of run that puts them in the same company as Phoenix, Golden State, Utah and Memphis.
Yes, injuries have played a role, and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is on record as recently as early December, saying she wanted to see how the team performed when healthy. But time is running out. The Lakers started the season with injury issues, but even with James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook, the Lakers are just 8-7. Not exactly tearing it up.
The Westbrook acquisition remains central to Los Angeles’ problems. He averages 18.5 points, eight rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.1. steals but is shooting 43.3% from the field, 30.4% on 3-pointers and commits 4.2 turnovers per game. The advance stats show the Lakers are better with Westbrook on the bench than on the court.
Westbrook did not play the final 3:52 of the fourth quarter against Indiana with Vogel subbing in Malik Monk for Westbrook. ESPN reported that management supports Vogel’s decision to play who he wants when he wants.
There’s no question the Lakers needed roster changes following last season’s first-round exit. But losing four players (Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Alex Caruso) for Westbrook does not look like the answer. That wasn’t Vogel’s decision.
Improving the roster via trade will be difficult if not impossible. The Lakers aren’t trading James or Davis, and they don’t have much after that that would yield the kind of players they need. Westbrook isn’t desirable as a player, and the $47 million he is owed for 2022-23 makes trading for him unpalatable to another team.
So what next? The road trip will reveal some answers with games at Orlando, Miami, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Atlanta. Four teams have better records than the Lakers and three are among the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
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Does Vogel survive the trip? Vogel said before Wednesday’s loss he doesn’t feel besieged.
“It’s really not up to me on whether it’s fair or not,” Vogel told reporters. “It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers coach. There’s high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market. And I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people that want the best and to command excellence of our group. That’s what we command of ourselves.”
The Lakers gave Vogel an extension before this season but only through the 2022-23 season. It wasn’t exactly a short leash but it wasn’t a long one either. More like one of those retractable leashes. It gave Vogel some financial security but also gave the Lakers a less expensive out if they need to go in another direction.
That other direction may come soon, even if the problem on the court isn’t Vogel’s fault.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Firing Frank Vogel may be Lakers' best option to jolt mediocre roster