Frank Vogel was officially hired as Lakers’ head coach yesterday, following the break down in talks with Ty Lue. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarkowski has reported that Jason Kidd has agreed to become a “prominent” assistant on Vogel’s staff.
How did the Lakers go from respected names like Monty Williams and Ty Lue to coaches that can be classified as nothing more than retreads? Was this really the best the Lakers could do? Of course it wasn’t. While the Lakers have yet to make any public statement about who is actually calling the shots or why moves are being made, only one motivation can be found that explains it all: the need for control at the top of the Lakers brass.
It’s clear that there is nothing about the Vogel-Kidd hirings that make any basketball sense. Vogel did have success early on as the Indiana Pacers’ head coach through the 2013-2014 season. However, since then, in between the remainder of his time in Indiana and his two years in Orlando, he averaged just over 34 wins per year and was not the head coach of any team for the 2018-2019 season. Before being fired as Magic head coach, he won just 29 and then 25 games, in his final two seasons. Vogel was then replaced by Steve Clifford who won 42 games the very next year.
Jason Kidd was the head coach in both Brooklyn and Milwaukee and averaged 36 wins per season. Kidd won only 23 games out of 45 before being fired by the Bucks in the 2017-2018 season. He’s most remembered for his time in Brooklyn where he staged an “accidental” bump into a Nets player, dropping a beverage to try and steal an unofficial timeout – an act that led to him being fined by the NBA.
He then angled his way into a head coaching position with the Bucks in 2014 after being denied more management power with the Nets. He met with Bucks officials to become their head coach despite the then coach, Larry Drew, still being employed in the same position. The very next season, he was replaced by Mike Budenholzer who now has the Bucks in position to compete for an NBA championship. As for Kidd’s off-court life, there are also issues there as well.
We know that Ty Lue was summarily dismissed as a candidate for Lakers head coach for reasons that were non-basketball related. First, the Lakers low-balled Lue with a 3-year offer despite the fact that it is expected that coaches be offered 5-years (see Monty Williams’ 5-year deal with Phoenix). Apparently, they wanted Lue to only be head coach for as long as LeBron was under contract with the Lakers. Second, they also offered Lue 18 million dollars over 3-years which was their final offer, meaning they actually offered less before this.
Are the Lakers all of a sudden hurting for money? Hardly. So why skimp on money and years for a coach that made the most basketball sense of any available candidates? There is no basketball-related reason to explain this. Third, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that an additional impediment leading to the Laker-Lue impasse was the fact that the Lakers were trying to impose their choices for assistant coaches (e.g. possibly Kurt Rambis and/or Jason Kidd) on Lue as a precondition to his hiring, an imposition not traditionally placed on any respected coaching candidate.
For the sake of not losing my mind, I will refrain from discussing any possible qualifications of Linda Rambis, who apparently has a good deal of say by virtue of her being the close friend and confidant of Jeanie Buss. But what exactly has Linda’s husband, Kurt Rambis, done to be so heavily involved with Lakers decision-making? Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that Rambis was playing a “major role” in the Lakers coaching search. ESPN have also stated that the Lakers tried to impose on Lue, placing Rambis as part of his staff if he were to be hired as the head coach.
In Rambis’ two only full seasons as a head coach, he won an average of 16 games and compiled a total record of 32-132 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was also associate head coach in New York and performed less than successfully before being fired in April of 2018. This was all not to mention a Twitter incident of embarrassing fashion leading to Rambis having to reportedly delete his account. He then rejoined the Lakers in September of 2018 as a senior basketball advisor. In short, no one has fallen upward faster than Rambis for reasons that can’t have had any basketball roots.
If these moves don’t make basketball sense – and they don’t – what is the explanation for all of this? It has to be power and control. We all know that Jeanie Buss fired her own brother, Jim Buss, from his position of running the basketball side of the franchise in 2017. Jeanie then had to fend off an attempted coup led by Jim and other Buss siblings in court before maintaining control of the team. Since then, there has been nothing but failed hires of “Laker people”. After such an attempt at a hostile takeover, it is understandable that in order to continue to maintain control, she would want to hire people she trusts. But it goes beyond that.
When the man who refers to Jeanie as his sister, Magic Johnson, stepped down, Jeanie still didn’t reach out to anyone outside the organisation for guidance. She refused to go beyond previous insular thinking despite the less-than-successful track record. Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report suggested that in the midst of the failed Anthony Davis trade talks in early 2019, LeBron James’ agent was so infuriated by the Lakers that she considered trading James because they were exercising too much control during the process.
During the Lue negotiations, Bill Oram of The Athletic reported that there was “sensitivity within Lakers walls to the outside narrative that James and his representatives are calling the shots, and hiring Lue would do nothing to diminish those cries”. There certainly is no basketball reason to care about such a perception.
Let’s be clear, this piece is not attempting to argue that Jeanie Buss and the Lakers brass don’t care about winning on the court. It’s just that it seems clear that winning isn’t the most important thing to the head figures. All of the moves above make sense if one looks at it through the prism of the fact that what matters most to the Lakers decision makers is who gets the credit, who appears to be in control, and who has the power. Credit seems to be more important than credibility.
While it won’t satisfy fans from any basketball perspective, looking at the Lakers’ moves from this prism will at least help fans set future expectations and possibly fill in blanks for what has been going on lately in Lakerland. Power is paramount. Winning is… less so. Just keep this in mind any time the Lakers make a nonsensical move – and we have no reason to think this will stop any time soon – and such moves will begin to start making sense.
By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)