Los Angeles Lakers fans have been antsy for the majority of the 2021-22 NBA season. They are nowhere near pleased with how their squad is performing. The Purple and Gold fateful are not used to seeing their boys beat up by mediocre teams and dominated by the elite.
As such, their war cry has been revolving around two things: fire Frank Vogel or trade some players away, preferably Russell Westbrook. So much emphasis has been put on the former as from the fans' point of view, this roster filled with future Hall of Famers could work. This responsibility belongs to Vogel. And midway through the season, the 48-year-old has not figured out how to maximize the pieces at his disposal.
A student of basketball history
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka is no sucker and has heard the fans' call. We've heard reports that the front office has indeed thought about replacing Vogel or arranging a blockbuster trade. But at the same time, Pelinka knows his job is not to browse through social media or watch fan-made analysis videos on YouTube to give him leads on how to solve the team's problems. His job is to use his plethora of experience in professional ball and make a firm decision. A recent report by ESPN reveals Pelinka is a diligent student of basketball history. He knows that firing Vogel midway won't salvage the Lakers' lackluster season.
"A series of listless losses throughout the season have put the onus on Vogel at several points, most recently last week when the team contemplated whether a midseason change could jump-start the team. Ultimately, the Lakers decided against replacing Vogel, for the time being at least, multiple sources said, because no one believes changing the coach will yield dramatically different results."
Internal coaching changes
Before Pelinka landed on this decision, we could assume he was staring at this interesting fact. Only three coaches in NBA history have managed to win a title after taking over the team midseason: Tyronn Lue (Cavaliers) in 2016, Pat Riley in 1982 and 2006 (Lakers and Heat), Paul Westhead (Lakers) in 1980.
If you're an optimist, you'll deem that firing Vogel midway could still result in another title for the Lakers. However, there are vital elements in those teams that enabled them to win it all amid a coaching shake-up.
As for one, Lue, Riley, and Westhead were not just plucked out of nowhere. Lue, Westhead, and Riley were assistant coaches before they took the mantle. In Riley's title with the Heat, he was the team's president. All three coaches had a good grasp of the playbook and the players before they took over. The playbook underwent minor tweaks. The team's philosophy and principles weren't just revised but solidified.
Another thing that separates the teams above from the current Lakers crop is that all of them were ripe for the title. Before snagging the Larry O'Brien trophy in 1980, the Lakers made it to the Conference Semis the previous season. Their roster, headlined by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, did not undergo any significant tweak, which preserved chemistry — the most critical element in any championship team. In fact, the Purple and Gold even received a mighty boost when a rookie Magic Johnson came to town. When Riley took the coaching helm two years later, he was gifted with future Hall of Famers at the very peak of their careers.
About the Heat, let's recall that they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2004-05 NBA season. This is solid proof that they could compete at the highest level. Also, the Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade combo looked seamless right from the beginning. The Heat shocked the world when they won in 2006. But hindsight reveals that they were meant to win that title. As for Lue's 2016 Cavaliers, they literally made it to the NBA Finals the season prior.
Vogel's six-game absence could've been a blessing in disguise. This served as David Fizdale's audition for the head coaching spot. If he went 6-0, Pelinka probably would've pulled the trigger on Vogel. But Fizdale went 1-5. He doesn't have the coaching chops that Riley, Lue, and Westhead possess.
The only way for the Lakers to win another title is if a miracle happens. A coaching change could improve their standing. But there's no way it would deliver them a title, even with a prime LeBron James in the fold. The right move would be to put this season in the bag and get ready for the next.