If reports hold true, Tyronn Lue will be the next Lakers head coach. He’s the candidate many thought would end up winning the job eventually, dating back to when it was still Luke Walton’s job to lose in the first place. The path here has been twistier than expected, with Monty Williams getting serious consideration and nearly playing the role of spoiler only to bow out right before the finish line by hitching himself to the Suns. We can debate whether this is to the Lakers’ loss or gain, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Lue, then, looks like he’s primed to takeover. The details are reportedly still being worked out, however, so we’d be remiss if we did not point out things could always change. But after a birthday party over the weekend donned a Lakers themed cake — whether in jest or not — things are advancing. Both parties seem to want to make it happen and when that’s the case a deal normally gets done. Only thing left is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s (and, I’d imagine, count the zeroes in the final contract number).
Further reports state that Frank Vogel is a top target to be Lue’s lead assistant. Vogel, most recently dispatched from the Magic and replaced by Steve Clifford, made his name as the Pacers coach who pushed LeBron’s Heat farther than any eastern opponent did during the King’s reign over the conference.
Vogel’s Indiana teams were led by Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, and David West; they were a team that clobbered opponents defensively and had enough on offense to to be a pseudo contender. Defense, then, is Vogel’s calling card and metrics support his wizardry on that end of the floor. His teams, at least in Indy, would grind you down with a combination of length and physicality while, at their peak, forcing misses all over the floor, controlling the defensive glass, and avoiding shooting fouls.
That peak was years ago, however, and like most coaches who experienced success in one place and then struggled in the next, the question is whether that original success was more personnel based, schematic, or a combination of both (and, if both, how much was actually influenced by the coach). There’s also the question of whether Vogel’s success, which came during a time before the league’s full-on infatuation with the 3 point shot took hold, can translate to this new era of NBA basketball. And, if it won’t, whether he can recognize that and adjust in kind.
This concept, though not in the same way, also applies to Lue, if we’re being honest.
Lue’s qualifications as a coach speak for themselves. He was on Doc Rivers’ staff that went to the Finals in 2010 and later served under Rivers as an assistant with the “lob city” Clippers. He was the lead assistant/associate head coach on David Blatt’s staff that went to the 2015 Finals and then, after replacing the fired Blatt early into the 2016 season, he coached the Cavs to the championship over the 73 win Warriors. He then coached two more consecutive Finals teams before being fired, like Blatt was, early the season this past year after a slow start in the wake of LeBron leaving for the Lakers.
That’s a long list of accomplishments, but should Lue end up the head man for these Lakers, it remains to be seen if those past successes are portable. Yes, he’d be joining LeBron, but all that shooting that served to optimize James’ specific gifts while punishing defenses from distance for daring to try to contain them are not coming with him. There is no Kyle Korver or Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. There’s not even a JR Smith or a Channing Frye or a Matthew Dellavedova.
When you can space the floor like those teams, offensive design need not be complicated. Run various P&R actions to create advantage off the dribble or force switches, then use the spaced floor to either get to the rim for a shot or draw enough help to free up a shooter to make the defense pay. Rinse, repeat. Lue, though, would not be coaching that team anymore. He’d be coaching these Lakers, in whatever their final form is — but currently devoid of long range snipers.
For Lue (and Vogel), then, there’s a certain amount of proving required. Past accomplishments deserve praise and the reputations earned from them require respect. But respect is maintained and carried forward by continuing to achieve at the levels you made your name on in the first place. The Lakers, more than most organizations, should know this better than most. A wall full of banners can only gussy up six straight lottery seasons and suspect front office work so much. The NBA is a what have you done for me lately? league and while coaches with a pedigree offer a runway to respectability, the plane still needs to be able to fly.
It’s rare in sports that second chances are framed this way, with these types of candidates. Most times, it’s guys who have failed previously who are out to prove they can be a success at all, not guys like Lue who have reputations of being difference makers on the sidelines. But as the league changes and people are dropped into new environments, evolving and fitting schemes to rosters and connecting with a new group of guys is a daily proving ground.
Lue, should he be the guy, and Vogel with him, deserves the benefit of the doubt they’d be able to get it done. But expecting things to translate immediately shouldn’t be looked at as a given. Not by outside observers and not by the parties themselves.