It took almost as long as construction of Las Vegas Stadium has, but the Lakers finally got themselves a head coach to chaperone the rest of the LeBron James era.
Despite giving the basketball world a glorious tour of its messy house, Los Angeles ended up with a team of basketball minds to work with its resident star over the next few seasons.
Frank Vogel is back in the coaching game after an unfortunate season in Orlando that ended in abrupt firing last year, filling the vacancy after Tyronn Lue passed it up because he felt disrespected at being offered less than market value through a three-year deal that didn’t even carry control of his own staff.
Lue not getting a standard five-year deal as a nod to his ties to the Lakers and his championship credentials despite his familiarity with LeBron set off a series of leaks. Fingers were pointed and the cover was lifted on how chaotic things have been behind the scenes in the wake of Magic Johnson’s bailing out on his team president duties just before the regular-season finale. Agent-turned-GM Rob Pelinka is now in control but taking off as a rookie pilot amid way more turbulence than had been anticipated. He apparently is sold on Jason Kidd being a part of the braintrust going forward, tying him to his coaching hire as an assistant coach. Lue balked, citing it as one of many factors why he turned the job down.
Vogel, seeking to make the most of what becomes a great career opportunity, agreed. Whether he makes it all three years is entirely tied to James, who remains the only person in the organization that truly matters in the short-term.
This summer, LeBron will have to be the magnet to get some additional talent in. That will continue for the remainder of his stint. In many ways, James arriving to don the purple and gold after Jeanie Buss let the kids run the show post-Kobe Bryant is like the main headliner arriving on the strip to run point. The show has to be good. James’ legacy takes the biggest hit since it’s his name on the marquee, but in this case, the resort’s reputation is also at stake.
The Lakers’ brand is about to be under attack since the Clippers are making no secret of their plans to upstage them given the braintrust Steve Ballmer has assembled and the clever positioning in a huge year in the free-agent market. Considering the Lakers have missed the playoffs in six straight seasons, another year playing meaningless games as early as March simply won’t cut it.
Will Vogel and Kidd play a prominent role in helping turn things around? Sure. It will be nice to have Kidd around to mentor Lonzo Ball while being groomed to ultimately take over as head coach when the LeBron era comes to a close. They’re still part of the supporting cast, however, reliant on their star to make them look good. That’s what it’s like when you’re coaching LeBron.
The Lakers were on track to make the playoffs before he was injured Christmas night but never recovered even when he returned. He’ll get back to 100 percent and is still a dominant presence, so there’s a chance he can put together a huge season, but It’s hard to get behind the prospect of him dominating a postseason as a 35-year-old after doing the heavy lifting just to get the Lakers in the playoffs. He’ll need significant help that may not come this summer.
The Cavaliers coaxed Michigan’s John Beilein out of the college game, hitting a home run in their search for a teacher to help their young talent develop. He’ll be 71 years old when his contract expires, so this is very much him taking his shot on the biggest possible stage, which you can’t help but admire.
Make no mistake, Beilein is self-made and has been considered one of the top coaches in his profession for nearly two decades, coming up as a high school coach in Niagara County in Western New York and working his way up to community college, Division III, Division II, low-level D-I and ultimately, West Virginia and Michigan.
No one can doubt his credentials, which is why he was a finalist for last year’s opening with the Pistons that Dwane Casey ultimately filled. An 829-468 record and two NCAA Championship game appearances has cemented his reputation, so even though he’s going to do a lot of losing as he adjusts to the NBA and brings a young roster along, he’ll certainly have the support of owner and Michigan alum Dan Gilbert and a front office that features assistant GM Mike Gansey, who played for him at West Virginia. If the Cavs draft well, I wouldn’t doubt that Beilein is coaching in the playoffs at the age of 70.
Raptors at Bucks, Total 218 (Wednesday): For Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, my expectation is we’ll see two teams that can really get after it on the defensive end play a game that’s lower-scoring than originally expected given the opening total of 218 across the Strip. Ride the low side here. UNDER
Trail Blazers at Warriors (Thursday): With Kevin Durant unlikely to play Game 2, I think you’ll see a desperate Blazers squad give Golden State all it can handle on Thursday night since they must take advantage of his absence to have a chance at pulling off a series upset.
Take whatever points you get with the road team. TRAIL BLAZERS
Last Week: 2-0
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