EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Frank Vogel’s determination to build "organizational togetherness" within the Los Angeles Lakers met the reality of the team’s current dysfunction Monday.
Vogel’s introduction as the Lakers’ coach was almost overshadowed by comments made earlier by Magic Johnson. The former Lakers great appeared on ESPN’s "First Take" and said general manager Rob Pelinka "betrayed" him, which was one of the reasons he resigned as president of basketball operations. That put the GM in the position of using most of Vogel’s 26-minute news conference to respond.
Pelinka said he has talked to Johnson several times since his resignation on April 9 and said Johnson’s comments surprised him.
"It’s saddening and disheartening to think he believes things are a misperception," Pelinka said. "I think all of us in life probably have been through things where maybe there’s third party whispers or ‘he said, she said’ things that aren’t true."
LeBron James watched the news conference from the back of the gym at the team’s facility, but did not shake hands with Vogel and declined interview requests. He shot baskets on another court while Vogel did one-on-one interviews with television reporters.
Vogel, who replaced Luke Walton, said the news conference took on a different tone than he imagined at the start of the day.
"It was definitely different than I expected and different than I’ve ever been a part of," Vogel said. "But I understand the line of questioning in light of the events of this morning. So you just roll with the punches.
"The perception about our team is not always the same as reality and you block out the noise."
Johnson stunned everyone by giving up his role during an impromptu news conference roughly 90 minutes before the regular-season finale. He said he wanted to fire Walton but that others blocked that. Walton did end up being dismissed before being hired by Sacramento.
"I started hearing, ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough’ and ‘Magic’s not in the office.’ People around the Lakers office were telling me Rob was saying things, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back," Johnson said. "So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball now, just not in the Lakers office anymore."
Pelinka said owner Jeanie Buss has eliminated Johnson’s position and the Lakers chain of command is now clearer.
"When it comes to a basketball decision I collaborate with the staff, many of whom are at this press conference today. Then I make a recommendation to Jeanie and she blesses that or not," he said.
The 45-year-old Vogel takes over a team that has also struggled on the court. The Lakers have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons, a drought that was expected to end in James’ first season. But injuries to James, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, as well as the internal discord, resulted in a 37-45 record. Vogel will be the Lakers’ sixth coach since Phil Jackson stepped down after the 2010-11 season.
Vogel worked for the organization before as an advance scout during the 2005-06 season. He did not coach last season following two years with the Orlando Magic. Vogel went to Orlando following five-plus seasons leading the Indiana Pacers, including trips to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and ’14. He has a career record of 304-291.
Pelinka said it was his decision to hire Vogel and that he made that recommendation to Buss. The road to hiring a new coach was not smooth, though.
The Lakers appeared to be closing in on a deal with Tyronn Lue, who played for the Lakers and coached James to the 2016 NBA title in Cleveland. But that deal never got to the finish line, and they quickly moved toward Vogel.
Vogel and Lue share the same agent. He said there were some discussions about joining the Lakers as an assistant if Lue was hired.
Vogel’s reputation has been built on being strong defensively but he said his approach with the Lakers will be analytics-based. He stressed creating space to attack the basket on offence and building a strong defence from the inside.
Vogel and James did not have any public interactions Monday but Vogel said the two have talked since he agreed to take the job May 11.
"I have a good feel for the way I want to use him and hopefully the respect on his end that we were a formidable threat to his teams in Miami each year," Vogel said. "Hopefully, our past experience together will serve as a foundation for the relationship that we’re going to have here and that we can do great things together here."
Vogel confirmed Jason Kidd will join his staff as an assistant and said it was something Pelinka brought up during the job interview.
Vogel said he likes having former players on his staff with coaching experience. He said he discussed Kidd’s history with domestic violence.
The Lakers expect to have more than $40 million in salary cap space this summer and have the fourth pick in the NBA draft. When free agency starts on July 1, they will likely try to land Kawhi Leonard and other big names.
"We have a great coach again, a high draft pick and a great young core," Pelinka said. "I think that people can look at this as an opportunity to come and win a championship, possibly next year. I think being concerned about the outside noise or the opinions of what people may or may not think is really not where our focus is right now."