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Insight from Orlando
New Lakers head coach Frank Vogel most recently spent two seasons as the coach of the Orlando Magic (2016-18), where he oversaw a young, developing team and dealt with a change in the front office when the GM that hired him was let go after his first year.
To get some insight on Vogel’s tenure there, I did an e-mail exchange with Fox Sports Florida Host Sideline Reporter, Dante Marchitelli, who’s been covering the Magic since 1998. Below is a copy of the chain:
MT: What’s up Dante? Thanks for doing this. So, Coach Vogel described in his introductory press conference how his two years in Orlando, because they were developing young talent/rebuilding, served as a “little bit of a laboratory.” What did you notice about his evolving approach?
Marchitelli: Hey Mike! That he was willing to try different lineups, rotations, different schemes, whatever it took to try to give his young group a chance to win. He wasn't afraid to solicit feedback from players, continue to encourage and push his guys but also find out what areas they felt most comfortable. He made changes to try and help guys develop their games, asking Nikola Vucevic to take more 3's, putting the ball in Evan Fournier's hands more, allowing Jonathon Simmons to be more of a playmaker. He asked guys to do things that would not only better the team, but also improve their individual game. Two years ago, the group was decimated with injuries after a promising 8-3 start, so he was forced to adapt almost nightly and he never let them use that as an excuse. Guys were able to expand their games and although the losing was difficult, I know they appreciated that opportunity.
MT: What else stood out to you about Vogel in your time interviewing him before and after every game?
Marchitelli: Unwavering optimism! Frank went into every game believing in his guys and feeling they were going to find a way to pull out a win. After games he was always complementary of his team's effort, but would certainly get on guys when necessary. He constantly communicates with guys so they know what's expected and found a way to relate to every player on the team. He's a pleasure to be around from a broadcasting standpoint, understands the job we have to do and does his best to give you a solid answer. I always had positive interactions and I'll always remember the optimism and confidence he had in his team, even through some difficult losses.
MT: Vogel suggested that he’s really evolved in terms of analytics and 3-point shooting offensively, while still thinks protecting the rim and the paint are paramount defensively. How did you see him employ his schemes in Orlando?
Marchitelli: He understood the two highest percentage spots on the floor were layups and free throws and knew his team had to be good at protecting the rim, and keeping teams off the free throw line. Defending without fouling was key and help defense were critical. He worked constantly with this group on their communication. Teams that don't talk aren't good defensively and you had to be able to read plays and react, always stay between your man and the rim, and if you were helping... stop the ball and recover. As critical as it is to protect the rim, guards had to keep their man in front of them ... the point guard is the "head of the snake" and if he's living in the paint, it's impossible for bigs to be stopping the ball all night.
Analytically, with a Magic team that struggled to score at times, he wanted an up tempo offense. Get stops and go, and he certainly encouraged guys to take open threes. He knows this is how the game is played now and knew we were much harder to guard if everyone was capable of scoring from beyond the arc. We started to see more drive and kicks out of our offense and fewer post-ups on the low block. He wanted Elfrid (Payton) and D.J. (Augustine) to live in the paint, find shooters and create for themselves. Still felt like top priority was to get to the rim or to the free throw line, but we saw more 3-point attempts as each season went on.
MT: Current Magic coach Steve Clifford was an assistant with the Lakers back in the day, and those of us around then saw what a good coach he was, as Orlando learned last season with the playoff run. We also understand that there was a change in the front office between Vogel’s two seasons, and the new regime brought in a new coach. How did you see Vogel shape some of the development of the young players, and what was the biggest difference with the team last season?
Marchitelli: Coach Clifford spent 5 years in Orlando as an assistant coach before he joined the coaching staff in L.A., so we knew we were getting one of the best coaches in the NBA. Our current front office (Jeff Weltman/John Hammond) was working together in Milwaukee and interviewed Cliff for the Bucks job, but Charlotte made him an offer before it progressed too far. So Jeff and John certainly had familiarity with Coach Cliff.
I think as far as development goes, Vogel helped instill some confidence in Fournier, Gordon and Vucevic handling the basketball, and becoming better playmakers. He trusted their basketball IQ and allowed them to make mistakes while they learned how to ultimately become better teammates. He would always say this group needs to become better passers, can't continue with all this 1-on-1, and he helped instill a more selfless style. One of the first things Coach Cliff said when he got here was that there were some things Frank instilled, and some concepts he used that he would continue to use. A lot of those were defensive concepts, which he built upon, but I truly think Frank started to help this group realize how critical it is to be selfless and share the ball.
This team was also incredibly healthy for the most part (in 2018-19), something Frank did not have in his final season here. But I do think the defensive mentality Frank started to instill in this group, helped Cliff in his transition during his 1st season. Cliff's preparation and accountability took things to a whole other level. We look forward to how much this group continues to grow under Cliff's tutelage and we'll always cheer on Frank from afar. Frank and Steve are two of the best people in this game and that makes it easy to root for them.
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