Head Coach Frank Vogel has paid the price for the Los Angeles Lakers’ poor campaign, as they failed to reach the play-offs and posted their worst record since the 2016/17 campaign - the season after Kobe Bryant retired.
The former Pacers & Magic head coach has been sacked after three years in role having led them immediately to an NBA Championship in his first season in charge during the lockdown bubble playoffs, before falling short in his second season due to recurring injuries to his two star men, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They lost to the eventual Western Conference champions in the Phoenix Suns last year, and the tale of this season has continued in a similar fashion.
Signing Russell Westbrook seemed like the final piece of the puzzle to the grand tapestry of a Championship winning team. The all-star point guard has impressed ever since his arrival in the NBA 2008, and after some movement around Houston and Washington, he arrived in LA with the record for most career-triple-doubles. The Lakers had finally removed some less performing players for a world class player that should have allowed LeBron to stay in the forward position and Davis to stay as a high-scoring center.
On paper, the Lakers were going to meet the Brooklyn Nets in this year’s finals because they started the season with all-star teams compared to every other team in the league, and they’d all live happily ever after. Unfortunately, basketball isn’t played on paper.
A record of 33 wins and 49 losses is simply unacceptable from a team with so many stars. An over-reliance on ageing stars has led them down a corridor of uncertainty regarding the aims of the team. Quite like many other large sporting entities around the world, they’ve gambled on superstars of the past rather than the superstars of the future. Picking up Russell Westbrook was a great move, if they hadn’t traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday, Spencer Dinwiddie and Isiah Todd the other way. Of course Westbrook is a more talented player, but great teams win rings, not individuals.
And for the failings of this team of individuals, who struggle to stay fit for the 82-game regular season, it’s hard to look past the head coach and front office who put the team together if there’s a finger to point.
The important part is what comes next for the Purple and Gold. A new head coach is needed as soon as possible, and Russell Westbrook’s player option, where he can extend his contract if he chooses to this summer, will need to be dealt with, whether he stays or goes. On top of the list of potential candidates for head coach is Toronto’s Nick Nurse.
Nurse’s playing career leaves a bit to be desired, having played in college for four years as well as becoming a player-coach for the Derby Rams in the British Basketball League, as well as floating between clubs on both sides of the Atlantic, including Birmingham Bullets, Manchester Giants and London Towers. He got his big break in the D-League (now known as the G League), where he managed to win two championships and get 23 players called up to the NBA, working with the likes of Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris.
The Canadian National Team head coach has worked tirelessly at Toronto Raptors since 2013, working to implement offensive plans that emphasises a passing game and shooting from the three-point line. Their stunning playoff run in 2018 led to them becoming the first winners of the NBA Championship from outside of the US, with Kawhi Leonard winning the MVP award before moving on to the Clippers.
Nurse signed a multi-year contract extension back in 2020, and it’s believed that he has two years left on that deal so it is unclear whether the Lakers would be able to pay his way out of the contract, or even if he would want to take the difficult job. Regardless, Nurse has the coaching talent to create a winning team for the next season. Time is ticking on the players and the management to make this right, otherwise another era will be lost and the Lakers will find themselves in another ‘rebuild’ process that might not end as soon as they hope.