Los Angeles Lakers

By navigating the Lakers to a championship through the most challenging of seasons, Frank Vogel silences the naysayers

As does any championship, the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers' title will go on to define the legacies of multiple personalities up and down their roster.

It re-ignites the GOAT debate between LeBron James and Michael Jordan, it will always go down as Anthony Davis' first title, it means that Rajon Rondo, in his twilight, becomes the only player in NBA history to win a championship with the 'Los Angeles' Lakers and the Boston Celtics, it caps-off a redemption season for Dwight Howard, and so on......

The same applies to the coaching staff.

With his third franchise and the eighth season overall, this was the first championship for head coach Frank Vogel. With this championship, he became the sixth head coach in the last 30 years to win a title in the first year with a team. It also makes him the sixth head coach to lead the Lakers to a title - four of the previous five are Hall of Famers (elected as a coach).

Beautiful, right?

All of it, certainly, sounds rosy but just like the players, this past season was a year where Vogel overcame multiple challenges, some that no head coach of any franchise in NBA history might have had to face.

And yet, through it all, he comes out on top - a champion

Silencing doubters


When announced as the head coach of the Lakers, back in May of 2019, not everybody on the outside touted it as a great hire and part of that might have had to do with Vogel's resume. His previous stint in Orlando, from 2016 to 2018, was dismal, at least by the standards he had set earlier with the Indiana Pacers.

Although the combined 54-110 (32.9%) record he put together with the Magic wasn't all his fault given the roster at his disposal and the management change the franchise underwent smack in between Vogel's time there, it was hard to overlook results so poor.

Earlier with the Pacers, he enjoyed a successful five-and-a-half years. He led the team to an overall record of 250-181 (58.0%) in the regular season and a 61-31 (50.8%) postseason record, highlighted by the two Conference Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014.

It was in Indiana that he would establish defense as his calling card. In his five full years with the Pacers, the team ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating - holding the No.1 spot for two seasons (2012-13; 2013-14).

Yes, the Lakers had Anthony Davis - an All-Defensive Player - and plenty of reliable players on that end of the floor, but they still needed a scheme. Vogel provided that, helping the Lakers record the third-best defensive rating (106.3) in the league for the 2019-20 season.

Leading through adversity + 'coaching LeBron'

In a season, that lasted over a year, Vogel was part of the leadership group that guided this Lakers squad through multiple challenges - a tumultuous short preseason trip to China, a tremendous loss to the franchise with the tragic passing of legend Kobe Bryant, and the mental adversity of playing in a bubble after a four-month hiatus during country-wide protests over racial injustice.

"One thing that sticks out to me is the moment my players kinda went to bat for me," Vogel began explaining on a podcast with ESPN's Zach Lowe about the scary situation while in China.

Given the tense geopolitical situation in China back in October, there was plenty of media - Chinese and American - waiting to hear from the NBA on the controversy surrounding Daryl Morey's controversial tweet about the Chinese government.

MORE: 8 Mamba Moments from the Lakers' title run

"At one point, the NBA said let's just take it off the player's plate. Let the coaches go out and answer those questions."

"I'm comfortable navigating through this being a leader for our whole group that was over there..." Vogel continued. "Our players were like "No, we are not letting you do that". So "we appreciate it coach but that's not happening.""

What's more impressive is how Vogel stamped his identity on the team despite the public perception and doubts about how he would perform, as he was reportedly the Lakers' third choice for head coach (after Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams rejected the offer). Many also speculated that the organization had hired Jason Kidd as an assistant who would take over in case things don't go according to plan.

"I wanted to go for it," Vogel stated on the podcast. "I wanted to just lay it all out there and be unafraid and really coach my way."

"Because a lot of times, you get coaching jobs in the NBA and you want to bend to appease your front office, you're going to bend to appease your players, and sometimes you don't always get to coach your way for various reasons. You want the job security, you want to not have to move your family, and all these types of things and my family had been through a lot, so I was going to do it my way and live with the results."

Coaching the team while Kidd was seated beside him wasn't the only potential challenge for Vogel. LeBron's relationships with his head coaches have been well documented, but Vogel wasn't interested in all of that.

MORE: How the Lakers' title-winning roster was assembled?

"I just wanted to start fresh with a blank canvas," said Vogel, when asked about not calling LeBron's previous head coaches for advice.

"With he and I, obviously having competed against each other but, beginning a relationship anew and I didn't want to have anybody else sway my perceptions of how it was going to play out. I was happy I did that and the season went really well for us."

Whether it was AD's arrival or LeBron being fitter and healthier, having missed the postseason (2019) for the first time since 2005, the fact that Vogel managed to get LeBron invested on the defensive end of the floor from opening night is commendable. Defense had been a subject The King had caught plenty of flak for in the media and on Twitter over the previous couple seasons, with many calling out his effort.

Bright future with dynastic potential

Vogel was hired on a three-year deal, lined-up with LeBron's contract (provided he picks up the player option for the final year). That's at least another two years of Vogel coaching LeBron and AD, who is reportedly set to opt-out and re-sign with the Lakers as a free agent.

Can they repeat? What about a 3-peat?

But even if they fall short, Vogel has already done enough - by helping bring a championship back to LA - to vindicate the Lakers' decision to hand him the keys.

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