Frank Vogel Remains Focused During COVID-19 Hiatus

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

In leading the Lakers to a 49-14 record prior to the suspension of the NBA season due to COVID-19, Frank Vogel kept a consistent focus that he touched upon almost daily to those of us covering the team.

What he worried about was only what was directly in front of his team that day.

And so, when Vogel took some time to talk with the beat writers on a Thursday afternoon conference call, it was no surprise that he reiterated that message.

“Focus on things you can control,” he said from his home, where he’s been hanging with his wife and two daughters. “Things that are out of control, you can’t worry about what the result is going to be, you just focus on trying to do the best in your situation that you can. Make the best out of the situation, and try to put yourself in the best position to get better and to be ready.”

Sports is so often such a good metaphor for life, and that’s no different in this unprecedented case. Right now, we all need to focus on what’s most important, and that’s staying in our homes to try and best ward off the spread of the virus, to protect as many people as possible.

“It’s a very different time than anything most of us have ever experienced in our lives,” said Vogel. “It’s just a time really to make sure that all of our loved ones are in good health and being safe. Making sure we can have in mind to be socially responsible and make sure we’re doing that, and enjoying my time with my family. Trying to see a silver lining in all of this. My daughters are getting older and it’s a time of year where we typically are not able to see our families very much. Enjoying that aspect of it.”

That’s a message long endorsed by Vogel’s best player, LeBron James. If you follow LeBron on social media, you know he’s been focused mostly on spending time with and taking care of his family, and secondarily, on trying to stay in shape as best he can.

LeBron’s season, very strong from the jump, was starting to reach a crescendo, the part of the song just before a well-known chorus you’re used to belting out in the shower. He had upped his averages to 30.0 points on 55.1 percent shooting (36.9 percent from three) with 9.4 assists and 8.2 boards plus nearly one block and one steal in the nine games after the All-Star break, pushing L.A. to a 5.5 game lead in the West after B2B wins over fellow-title-contending squads, MIL and LAC. Coming off B2B West Player of the Month awards, James may have been about to pass Giannis Antetokounmpo in the MVP race with the Bucks’ star set to miss time due to a knee injury.

While on the phone with Vogel, I found myself thinking specifically about LeBron, and how much he put into this season, his 17th, and how he’d been ramping things up physically getting ready for the postseason. At first thought, I wondered if the hiatus – of course, depending on the length, and if play resumes – would actually help him recharge his battery? On the other hand, could it take LeBron out of that ideal physical rhythm and shape he’d been building? I asked Vogel.

“You don’t really know,” Vogel said. “You don’t really know what kind of impact it’s going to have on him specifically. I know that he’s going to take care of his body better than anyone in the league, I know that. Whether this rest ultimately ends up helping him or hurting him, that’s to be determined. I like to be an optimist and think that this could help him, but it’s a great unknown. Every player in the League … it’s going to help some players, it’s going to hurt some players. I think it’s up to that player to make the best of the situation.”

Lately, Vogel has been watching LeBron and the rest of his team play on his laptop. When the news broke that the season was suspended, Vogel knew that it was going to be a while until the possibility of play resuming, so he tried to take some time off. That lasted a day or two before he fired up the recent game film.

“I began to watch some of our recent games and take notes on the way we were progressing so that we can make sure we can pick up where we left off whenever we are able to resume,” he said. “We’ve got our coaches working on the playoff opponents as if the season were not to resume and they were to go right into the playoffs. Just looking at those eight teams, those seven teams. The coaches have been given projects or assignments to watch more games on that and just compile data and knowledge. Make notes and observations and all those types of things again so whenever we’re able to resume we’re ready to go.”

In short, Vogel’s trying his best to have the Lakers prepared for whatever happens in a situation that, clearly, he has absolutely no control over.

“It’s going to be up to the League to decide where we actually resume from a scheduling standpoint,” he said. “Do we try to play the regular season games? Do we try to play like a handful of regular season games before the playoffs start? Do we start right at the playoffs? There’s a million different layers you can look at it ... I trust the League is gonna just basically get as most out of it that we can while doing it in a socially responsible way, and a way that’s safe for the world. Whatever ability the NBA has to max that out in the right way, the safest way, that’s what we’re going to fall on.”

Of course, Vogel had to acknowledge the possibility that the season would be canceled.

“That certainly is a possibility, and it would be a huge disappointment if we aren’t able to play,” he said. “However, we get it, and this is bigger than basketball. And us getting back on the court is not the most important thing for the world right now. Hopefully we have that chance, and if we’re not able to, it would be a big disappointment, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the suspension of the season might impact teams differently. For a team with championship aspirations that had been clicking on all cylinders, healthy and ramping up like the Lakers, losing that rhythm is far from ideal. For a team just starting to play well with a chance to get into the playoffs? Also rough. For a lottery team that was likely just playing out the schedule trying to improve internally? Perhaps not as much.

Vogel recognizes the challenge for the Lakers in terms of rhythm.

“Well, we’re going to have to recreate it,” he acknowledged. “And, I think it’s going to be difficult to just say, ‘Hey, maintain, maintain, maintain (during the break) and we just got to pick up right where we left off.’ We have to re-establish our chemistry, re-establish our work ethic, re-establish our conditioning and rhythm and timing.”

But … so does every other team in the league. And, importantly, the Lakers have in essence locked up the No.1 seed no matter what a return-to-play scenario entails.

“With the veterans that we have on this team, the way we’ve come together so quickly for really a new group, it gives me a reason to be encouraged that we can accomplish this very quickly again,” Vogel explained. “And that’s going to be our intent. We’re going to stay in top physical shape. The coaching staff is going to keep studying the game at the right level and when we’re able to get back to work, hopefully we can get back and have enough time to get back in the gym, get our legs under us, work on our rhythm and timing and be ready to pick up where we left off.”

Rewind back to last fall for a second: the Lakers entered the season in a loaded West featuring many teams with strong continuity with an almost entirely new roster of guys who hadn’t played together and an entirely new coaching staff. Even with their top-end talent in LeBron and Anthony Davis plus a bunch of veterans eager to complement the stars, it’s very difficult to start fast with so much to learn internally.

Well … at least it’s supposed to be!

Instead, Vogel’s team started 24-3. They lost the opener, then reeled off streaks of seven, nine and seven wins.

So, if/when play returns, the equation of elite stars + smart vets + well-prepared coaches = a better chance to start fast than most.

By the way … I was curious what Vogel saw when he watched his team on tape.

“Well, I just think we were hammering into our details,” he said. “We were improving. Whether it’s post spacing or the way we want to run the break, some of the things we were doing in our pick and roll offense, the coverages that go into this modern NBA spread five look with elite scorers and shooters at all positions, there’s a lot of unique challenges that we’ve really grown a lot along the way.

“That was one of my big messages before the Bucks and Clippers games that weekend, was we lost to both of those teams in December, but as I watched the tape of those games we’re far better heading into those games than we were in December. We’ve just grown. We’ve built our package of offense, we’ve built our defensive coverages and our schemes and weapons we have there and that’s how I felt in terms of watching these recent games and I still there’s room to grow and hopefully we’ll have that chance.”

As we all stay home and hope the devastating COVID-19 crisis hits as minimally as remains possible, Vogel is going to continue to focus on what he can control. He’s going to spend time with his family, keep in regular contact with his staff and his players, and prepare as best he can for any type of basketball situation that presents itself.

- Vogel said he’s been watching a ton of old games on NBATV and ESPN, highlighted by the 2013 Finals featuring LeBron (Miami) and Danny Green (San Antonio); the 2011 Finals featuring LeBron (Miami) vs. Jason Kidd (Dallas); and LeBron’s McDonalds All-American game.
- Vogel’s family time has included: daily workouts with his wife; school work for his daughters, plus lacrosse assignments and Zoom workouts for soccer; binging shows like “Stranger Things,” “All American,” and movies like “Just Mercy” and “Good Will Hunting”; and home cooking (they made pizza last week).
- Vogel and his coaching staff did not get tested, which was what the team doctors recommended. Only the players were tested.

- Vogel’s been thinking about all of the people who work Lakers games and how they’re impacted: “Yeah I mean, I just think there’s really so many people, I’d be remiss to try to name one or two or three. But everybody from the stats crew to the building ops people to the vendors in the stands. But it extends even further to the part time employees, full-time employees. You know this is a thing that reaches worldwide. So I just feel for everyone, and hopefully we can get through this as well as we can.”

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