The Los Angeles Lakers‘ most-recent victory was the type of game capable of turning a season around.
Hosting the Utah Jazz, the league’s highest-scoring team, LA held its opponent to its second-lowest scoring output of the season in a 101-95 victory. The victory snapped the Lakers’ three-game skid and elevated them back to .500, where they sit at a disappointing 22-22.
But even a huge victory isn’t enough for Frank Vogel to definitively keep his spot on the bench. In fact, LA’s head coach is now on a scorching-hot seat that could eventually cost him his job at any moment.
The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to build any momentum
There were many people who were skeptical about the Lakers’ championship hopes heading into the season. And that was before preseason injuries began to derail the season before it started. But few expected the Purple and Gold to be scratching and clawing their way to a .500 record over 40 games in.
LA has failed to string together more than four wins in a row, doing so once with victories over the sub-.500 Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Hawks. But it immediately followed up its longest win streak with three consecutive losses, one of which was Saturday’s horrifying 133-96 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. In general, the Lakers haven’t been able to muster up enough wins to maintain an exemplary record.
There are multiple reasons why LA’s campaign has gone awry. Vogel is largely to blame for certain lineup decisions, such as starting DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore as often as he did. The defense has also suffered in recent weeks, a stark departure from the elite D Vogel once established.
Injuries are a major factor as well. The superstar combination of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook has started a total of 15 games together. Westbrook has been the lone constant, playing in all 44 games and leading the league in minutes. But his shooting and turnover issues have cost the Lakers in big spots late in games.
Frank Vogel is reportedly coaching for his job
There were whispers early in the year about whether LA’s losing would impact Vogel’s job status. At first, COVID-19 issues and injuries were able to be cited as reasons for poor performance. However, the veteran head coach appears to be out of excuses and heading toward unemployment.
According to a report by Bill Oram and Sam Amick of The Athletic, Vogel “is being evaluated on a game-to-game basis and remains at risk of being fired soon if the progress doesn’t continue.” Additionally, the two wrote how Vogel was coaching for his job Monday against the Jazz, and how a repeat performance of LA’s 37-point loss two nights prior would have been enough for removal.
The 48-year-old Vogel is in his third season with the Lakers. After taking over for the fired Luke Walton in 2019, Vogel helped guide LA to a title in his first season. His second go-around was far more difficult, as injuries to James and Davis led to a first-round departure against the rival Phoenix Suns.
Since becoming the coach of the Indiana Pacers during 2010-11, Vogel has finished above .500 in seven out of 10 seasons. He has made the playoffs six total times, including back-to-back conference championship appearances in Indiana along with his 2020 Finals run with LA.
Fair or not, Frank Vogel is being scapegoated by the Lakers
If Oram and Amick’s report is to be believed and the coach is being evaluated on a game-by-game basis, it’s wise to assume Vogel’s days in LA are numbered. In fact, with the Purple and Gold scheduled to face the Heat, Nets, and 76ers in the coming days, an interim coach could be running the show well before the All-Star break.
As mentioned above, Vogel isn’t blameless regarding LA’s struggles. Poor lineup decisions are the root of the issue, as is a failure to motivate the team during difficult stretches. But he’s far from the root issue. Above Vogel and above injuries, the Lakers’ largest problem is their roster construction.
Following last year’s first-round exit, general manager Rob Pelinka overhauled the majority of LA’s roster. Rather than adding two or three high-caliber players, Pelinka sunk the majority of remaining cap space into Westbrook. Due to the former MVP making $44 million, the Lakers had little choice but to fill out the rest of the roster with long-in-the-tooth veterans playing on one-year, league-minimum deals.
Through 44 games, it’s clear to see how Pelinka’s roster falls short of contending. And that’s with guys like Malik Monk and Austin Reaves playing above expectations. But rather than Pelinka taking the fall, Vogel will likely lose his job for not being able to get the most out of the team.
Coaches far more often than not get the raw end of the deal. That’s just the nature of the business. And barring a miraculous turnaround with a flawed roster, it seems Vogel is destined to become an undeserving casualty.