The Sixers on Tuesday interviewed Frank Vogel to be the team’s next head coach, a team source confirmed to Liberty Ballers. The former Lakers coach and South Jersey native won a title in L.A. in 2020. He started his career as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, Sixers and Pacers before having six mostly successful seasons as the head coach with Indiana.
But what would Vogel bring to this current Sixers group? We asked Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll to provide a little insight into Vogel’s time with the Lakers and how he might fit in Philly.
You saw Frank Vogel coach the Lakers during three pretty weird seasons. Over that time, what did you see as his strengths and weaknesses?
“Weird” is definitely an accurate way to describe the three years Vogel presided over the Lakers’ bench. From a championship, to a repeat bid cut short by injuries, to missing the playoffs entirely and his firing after one of the worst trades in NBA history, the Franky V era was definitely a rollercoaster. The positive of the team overhauling the roster each year, though — if you can call this a positive — was that we got to see Vogel at both his best, and at his worst.
If I had to pick the biggest strength Vogel showed as Lakers head coach, it was his ability to make playoff adjustments. During the team’s title run, with the most talented and healthy roster he got to coach, Vogel pulled just about every single lever correctly en route to the franchise’s 17th title. The big lineups he preferred weren’t working? Ok, that’s fine, start Markieff Morris and play four out around Anthony Davis. Jimmy Butler is getting loose? That’s all right, give Alex Caruso his first playoff start, hold Miami to 36 points in the first half and turn the entire final 24 minutes of a finals clincher into garbage time. Between lineup adjustments, coverage tweaks and an ability to utilize one of the best rim protectors in the league to force opponents into bad, wild shots at the bucket, Vogel showed why he developed a reputation as one of the forefathers of the art of verticality with the Pacers.
As for weaknesses, I’d say that — like most coaches — Vogel is much more limited in his ability to adjust or win without his preferred type of personnel. If you have tenacious perimeter defenders who can funnel drivers toward a monster at the rim, he’s going to find ways to limit any opponent and patch up any holes on the perimeter. But if your roster features only one legitimate center, he might go small with 37-year-old Carmelo Anthony in drop coverage. Spoiler alert, the latter will not work. Vogel also did not always show the most offensive creativity in Los Angeles, but part of this also might have been that to some degree, a LeBron James team is going to play the LeBron James system offensively, so I’m not certain how fair it is to judge him for spamming LeBron/AD pick-and-rolls and isos when that’s actually a pretty good strategy when you have shooters around them.
Vogel won a championship in his first year and was out after just two more seasons. There were obvious roster issues with the Lakers, but what do you think ultimately led to Vogel being fired?
So I sort of alluded to it in the last graf of the first answer, but to be more specific: I think Vogel was:
- Scapegoated by a front office that never appeared to fully believe in him after he was (at-best) their third or fourth choice in 2019, only being hired after a second round of interviews following the team’s negotiations with Ty Lue going up in flames after not even being part of the first wave of interviews
- Lost the locker room to a degree (or at least lost LeBron and many of the vets)
- A failure to coach the team he had instead of the team he wanted
Let’s get this out of the way: In retrospect, it’s unlikely that just about any levers Vogel had pulled in 2021-22 would have gotten that decrepit roster to contention. But could they have made the playoffs? Or at least the play-in? Maybe not, but it still feels possible had he not been so stubborn about going as small as possible, almost as if to point out to anyone watching “do you see how little size this front office gave me?”
It’s additionally pretty clear — despite his public comments praising Russ throughout the year — based on Vogel’s gameplan in 2020 against the Houston Rockets in large parts amounting to “let Russell Westbrook shoot as much as he wants” that he would not have made the Westbrook trade that ultimately doomed him, and it also was plain from the start that Westbrook did not necessarily respect his new coach any more than that coach respected Westbrook’s jump shot. Keeping the two together for another (half) season was, in the end, untenable.
As Sixers fans are now no doubt familiar with, even a flawed, aging former Rockets All-Star who may not be back is going to win a power struggle with a coach they don’t like. Add it all together, and you have the cacophony of dysfunction that Vogel was dismissed at the end of.
Vogel coached LeBron James and Anthony Davis. How do you think he did managing his superstars? How do you think he’d mesh with Joel Embiid and (possibly) James Harden?
Despite the stuff above that might give you pause about Vogel’s ability to coach stars, he actually did an incredible job in this respect over the course of his first two seasons, especially season one. I still don’t think he ever lost Anthony Davis’ respect, as two kindred spirits who care about defense more than just about anything, they were made for each other.
For that reason, I think Frank would love coaching Joel Embiid. Embiid is exactly the type of defensively talented big man (Prime Roy Hibbert, Davis) that Vogel’s success has always come alongside. I have no doubt that he would have a ton of creative ideas about how to best leverage Embiid’s unique blend of length, strength, and balletic foot speed for his size defensively. As for James Harden… that may be a match made more in the Vogel/Russ mode.
To be clear, Vogel is an exceptionally positive presence, one of the most publicly kind and supportive NBA coaches you’ll find. He did everything he could to support Westbrook and every other player he coached with the Lakers publicly, and will never, ever throw guys under the bus (I know that’s relevant in Philly). If he did coach Harden, he would downplay any concerns, talk about how he actually thinks James is underrated defensively, and do everything he could to breathe good vibes into the locker room through the sheer force of Ted Lasso-esque positivity (this was actually Lakers owner Jeanie Buss’ nickname for Frank).
I think in year one, Vogel would be a breath of fresh air for the locker room. He’d hold everyone equally accountable behind closed doors in the film room, only ever discuss how good they are publicly, and do his best to make Embiid (and maybe Harden) feel empowered as leaders of the team and consult them on everything from gameplans to practice schedule. If the team didn’t have success, maybe there is concern about maintaining buy-in down the line, but in year one at the very least, it’s hard not to see it being a positive blend.
The Lakers’ defense was exceptional during the championship run and it’s been a calling card of Vogel’s teams. What stood out about the defense under Vogel?
As I said above, verticality and versatility (at least when the Lakers had both). Of the jobs he’s a candidate for, the only one I’m more confident Vogel would be perfect for is the Bucks. With Embiid as a back-line defender and a good amount of length — and dawgs — on the perimeter, I think Vogel would do a great job at finding ways to limit the impact of the Sixers’ bad defenders and funnel threats towards their good ones. He is not a guy who is going to change his scheme night-to-night, but expect him to have his team prepped to throw a variety of looks and strategies at opponents in the playoffs to keep them offguard.
If you can find a way to trade for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and/or Alex Caruso — or resurrect Sixers legend Danny Green’s legs — you’ll be unstoppable with Embiid anchoring the paint.
You saw how the Sixers went down. What would you say to a Sixers fan to provide hope if Vogel is the guy?
For most of the reasons I mentioned above, I think Vogel would be a pretty good fit for this Sixers team, whether they bring Harden back or not. It seems like teams often pivot the complete opposite direction when they fire a coach, so — from afar, at least — going from a hardass excuse-maker like Doc to someone in Vogel who is going to deflect blame from his players, take it on himself, and support them in every way he can would seem like a potential fit, especially when factoring in his defensive aptitude. Media will love interacting with him, players will too, and the vibes will never be better in Philly.
Just make sure you give him a backup center with size that is not the remains of DeAndre Jordan, unless you want Tobias Harris at the 5 minutes to highlight that lack of rim protection the front office provided him with.