Los Angeles Lakers, The Whiteboard

A short list of things Frank Vogel can and can’t control for the Lakers

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The Los Angeles Lakers muddled their way to another loss Thursday night, against the surging Memphis Grizzlies. The final score was 108-95 and the way the Grizzlies rallied while the Lakers tailed off — getting outscored by 17 points after the first quarter — was indicative of the direction of both teams’ current momentum.

The Lakers are roughly a third of the way through the season and sit at just seventh in the West at 13-13. They’ve suffered through myriad injuries but it still feels like a discouraging start, the players look affected and these kinds of situations often point to a coach on the hot seat. Frank Vogel, for his part, seems ready to defend himself and last night answered a question about his team’s effort with uncharacteristic bluntness, per Lakers beat writer Kyle Goon:

“When asked if he’s surprised that a veteran group like the Lakers would let up after getting an early lead, Frank Vogel responds: “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I’ve seen it with our group this year.”

If the “Lakers need a new coach” talk is going to heat up and I’d like to take a moment and point out what parts of the team’s performance Frank Vogel actually has direct control of.

What can Frank Vogel actually control for the Lakers?

Frank Vogel can control which five Lakers are on the court at any given moment during a game.

Frank Vogel can not control which players are on the roster or which players are available to play. He can not control the swelling in Kendrick Nunn’s knee, the timeline for Trevor Ariza’s recovery from ankle surgery, the level of mobility in Talen Horton-Tucker’s surgically repaired thumb. He can not control the rate of healing for strained muscles in LeBron’s abdomen or his COVID exposure.

Frank Vogel can control the basic offensive principles and structures of the Lakers’ offense, as well as call specific plays in certain situations.

Frank Vogel can not control whether or not Anthony Davis makes just 39.7 percent of all 2-point shots outside the restricted area or whether or not Russell Westbrook makes just 14 of his first 50 3-point attempts in a Lakers’ uniform. He can not control the effect of aging on LeBron’s body or how it impacts his willingness to attack the basket or his effectiveness when he does. He can not control whether his role players make just 35.5 percent of their open and wide-open 3-pointers.

Frank Vogel can control the basic principles and structures of the Lakers’ defense, as well as decide on various matchup schemes and coverages for specific opponents.

Frank Vogel can not control the level of intensity and attention his players bring to those schemes. He can not control if his defensive anchor will play with effort and move his feet, or lazily reach and get blown past. He can not control whether his players get back quickly on transition defense or just watch opponents slice through for easy layups.

Sure, a coach is responsible for motivating his players to buy in and play with effort, something that can be reinforced with rotation decisions. But Westbrook, LeBron, Davis and the rest of the veterans on this team are not the kind of players that can be motivated with reduced minutes. And it’s not like there are any answers on the bench waiting for an opportunity to help.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers right now. Frank Vogel is not one of them.

Can the Houston Rockets actually make the playoffs?

Probably not. But it, incredibly, is a question that actually needs to be asked. The Rockets have followed a 15-game losing streak with a 7-game win streak and have climbed out of the Western Conference basement. The NBA’s new play-in structure creates a wild card situation for a team to create chaos and breakthrough and the Rockets are just 2.5 games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 9 seed.

Statistical projection models thus far, haven’t been that moved by the Rockets’ win streak and 538’s model still gives less than a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs (projecting their final record at 21-61). But before the season began, their projected final record was 19-63 and it’s incredible that they’ve improved that projection despite losing 15 games in a row.

The Rockets probably aren’t going to secure a playoff spot and an upcoming difficult stretch may cut short their hot streak. But the new play-off structure means more teams are going to be in the playoff race deeper into the season and the Rockets could at least stay in the conversation, even as long shots.


Dan Devine is also talking about Frank Vogel and the Lakers, over at The Ringer.

It would have seemed unthinkable to ask a few months ago, but what if the Nets are better off without James Harden?

It was the biggest question for the Timberwolves this season, and the answer is yes: they can play defense.

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