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Did Frank Vogel know the Lakers season was doomed as early as the preseason?

Did the Lakers know their season was doomed before it even started? Who's to blame and how do they move forward after missing the playoffs?

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers fired head coach Frank Vogel on Monday just 18 months after he helped bring the Los Angeles the 2020 NBA title.

The firing followed a tumultuous couple of seasons for the Lakers, including them missing the playoffs this year after being the preseason favorite to win it all.

The season was highlighted by more injury problems and chemistry issues between the team, including Vogel, after bringing in Russell Westbrook this offseason.

On Friday's Locked On Lakers podcast, the guys brought on The Athletic's Bill Oram, who covers the Lakers, to discuss how this all happened and how the Lakers can move forward.

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Oram said while there was hope in the second half that the Lakers would at least make the play-in tournament for a chance at the playoffs, Lakers star LeBron James was indicating as early as February that this team didn't have it.

“I feel like Lebron was out on this team when they lost to the Bucks in February and LeBron basically said we cant get on their level," Oram said on Locked On Lakers. "Then after the All Star Break, they lost to the Clippers and LeBron said they’re better than us. The team right ahead of you in the standings, that you could face in the play in. He had a pretty heavy dose of reality of what this team was pretty early on.”

It's clear that many of the issues for the Lakers revolved around the lackluster play and chemistry issues with Westbrook. But, at the same time, who's actually to blame for those problems?

“It seems like at least at the very least there was inklings that the plan wasn't going to work as early as training camp, the fit issues with Russell Westbrook…They were incredibly naïve about how they could get Westbrook to fit," Locked On Lakers host Brian Kamenetzky said.

Oram pointed to his exclusive interview with then-Lakers head coach Frank Vogel earlier this month, where he pointed to early-on signs that this season was not going to work out for the team.

“I think there was a real disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff for what the potential for Russell Westbrook, LeBron, AD trio looked like," Oram said. "I think there was a real arrogance on the part of the front office and by extension, LeBron James and Anthony Davis that they could mold Westbrook into the player they wanted to be.”

“I had an exclusive interview with Frank Vogel and I remember how I asked him this question, I said when did you first pick up on this was not going to be smooth sailing, what was the first domino?" Oram continued. "And he went back to the preseason and he said when Russ and AD played before LeBron even played, it didn’t look good. That’s before they lost a single game in the regular season. Really damning and I think it reflects poorly on the decision makers.”

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, who built this team, took some responsibility for how the Lakers played this season in his exit interview. The Kamenetzky brothers pointed out how it's not just the roster, but there is a lot of turnover in the support staff the last few seasons has turned over including strength coaches and head trainers. 

“Rob Pelinka in his exit interview was more accountable than I’ve heard him before," Oram said. "He said it’s on me, I am the ultimate decision maker. And I was struck by that because we haven’t heard that from him as much.”

Oram said there was still some difference in Pelinka’s exit interview, saying the decision to fire Frank Vogel was one of collaboration.

“So it was like, are you the ultimate decision maker or are you not? Because why are you bringing these other folks in," Oram said. "But I do think there is an understanding that he can’t hide behind all these other people any more. He got a promotion after the championship, he has a contract that’s going to become much more of a factor going forward. But it’s getting to put up or shut up time.”

Andy Kamenetzky spoke to speculation that the "basketball minds" in the front office weren't as interested in bringing in Westbrook this past summer, but the pressure came from James and Anthony Davis. 

"There’s no good way to spin the Russell Westbrook trade," Oram said. "It’s either a bad decision and you knew it or it was a bad decision and you didn’t know it. And both of those speak poorly to your systems.”

So what is the attitude now for the Lakers' front office. Is it one of desperation like we have to somehow put a championship caliber team together again or is there more of a long term view of the situation that they’re in? And, what do you do with Russell Westbrook?

"I think there is a longer view…I think the good business side of this would be to find a way to get through next season with Russell Westbrook either sent home or on your team," Oram said on Locked On Lakers. "The problem is you have LeBron James who’s going to turn 38 years old. And if you have any sort of window to win championships left, you have to make the most of it and I don’t think anyone could sensibly argue that is with Russell Westbrook playing alongside him. And it’s even less sensible to have Russell Westbrook chewing up $47 million in cap space on a boat in Newport. There aren’t good options here.”

Catch more of the conversation with Oram on the Locked On Lakers podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Find Bill Oram's stories over at The Athletic here

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