A California Focus Today

Almost 6 months ago in October 2021, the NBA regular season began.  After enduring 1,230 regular season games – most of which had little to no significance – fans can now expect to see a better brand of basketball during playoff time.  That is the positive NBA news of the moment, but there is a negative story out there that will likely not get nearly as much play as it should.

There are reports this morning that the LA Lakers are going to “part company” with coach Frank Vogel.  That makes about as much sense as firing the Director of Public Safety in LA in the event that a meteorite impacts the downtown area and obliterates the LA City Hall.  When you try to assess blame for the embarrassing fact that the Lakers will be sitting home watching these NBA playoffs, you have to go down the list a bit before you come to Vogel’s name.  I am not saying he is blameless, but there are other “culprits” who will likely get a pass here as Vogel is sacrificed to the angry Laker fans who have come to see deep playoff runs by their team as a birthright.

As is usually the case when a team has a bad season, a large measure of the blame ought to fall on the players and the folks who constructed the roster – – but it rarely seems to do so.  Last year when the Lakers traded for Russel Westbrook, there were lots of folks who wondered how it would be possible for Westbrook and LeBron James to be on the court together without each one detracting from the other’s strength.  There is only one ball in an NBA game and both James and Westbrook are at their All-Star best when they control the ball to create scoring chances for themselves or for teammates.  When someone else is controlling the ball and developing the plays, either James or Westbrook morph into just one of the many ornaments on a Christmas tree as opposed to being the star atop the tree.

Add to that compatibility issue the fact that the Lakers roster is old and fragile.  The youngest of its star players, Anthony Davis, cannot seem to avoid injuries.  Since joining the Lakers three seasons ago, the Lakers have played 235 regular season games; Anthony Davis has participated in 138 of those games.

  • Anthony Davis has missed a tad over 40% of the games on the Lakers’ schedule.
  • Is Frank Vogel the source of those injuries in some mysterious way?

I am not trying to say that Frank Vogel is a great coach; I maintain that the Lakers’ roster is a glorious mess and that it will not be any better next year unless one of two things happens:

  1. The Lakers find a team willing to take Westbrook’s contract off their hands.  [Aside:  The contract has one year left at $47.1M.]
  2. Russell Westbrook decides to retire from the NBA

For the record, I think “Option 2” above is about as likely as Forest Gump being admitted to MENSA.  So, good luck to whoever gets the honor of replacing Frank Vogel on the Lakers’ bench.  The pay will be nice, but you will have to navigate that roster through a full NBA season with expectations that an appearance in the NBA Finals is at least a 50/50 proposition.

Phil Jackson left the Lakers after the 2010/2011 season.  Since then, the Lakers have had 5 head coaches plus one interim head coach.  That speaks to the expectations and the long-range planning aspects of working there.  Here is a brief look at the Lakers’ roster situation in the future:

  • Unless Westbrook retires, the Lakers have just about no cap space.
  • Without cap space, the Lakers are hamstrung in signing significant free agents
  • Without meaningful free agents arriving, the Lakers’ depth continues to be a mirage.
  • In all the team’s maneuverings over the past couple of years, the Lakers next first round draft pick will be in either 2025 or 2026 and in this year’s draft, the Lakers have zero picks.

So, here is my message for the agent who represents anyone who might be under consideration for the Lakers’ head coaching job over the next month or so:

  • If the deal is longer than 3 or 4 years, be sure there is a full buyout clause in that contract – – because your client’s chances of surviving in the job for 5 years or more are meager at best.

Moving on…  I found the following item in Dwight Perry’s column in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“The Oakland A’s have the same payroll — $33 million — as they did in 1991, when they led the major leagues, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

“If this year’s team inspires a movie, it’s probably ‘No-Moneyball.’”

That “inspired” me to go looking and I found that indeed the Oakland A’s payroll in 1991 was $33.63M AND that payroll was the highest in MLB for that season.  José Canseco was the highest paid player on the A’s that year; other notable team members were:

  • Harold Baines
  • Ron Darling
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Mark McGwire
  • Terry Steinbach
  • Dave Stewart
  • Walt Weiss

Times have changed since 1991.  The A’s are no longer among the big spenders in MLB; and if you look at those players on the roster and project what they would cost in their prime today, you can see what a “bargain” it was to pay the team a total of only $33.63M back then.

Finally, since I quoted Dwight Perry above, let me close with another item of his from the Seattle Times:

“SiriusXM fired PGA Tour Radio analyst Mark Lye after he said on-air ‘I’ll shoot myself’ rather than watch a WNBA game.

“Now they call him Unplayable Lye.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………