A year after getting unceremoniously released through the trap door LeBron James has designed into the floor beneath the head coach’s seat on the bench, Frank Vogel has re-emerged as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. The 49-year-old Vogel and the Phoenix Suns are familiar with each other’s games. Monty Williams’ Suns booted Vogel’s Lakers from playoff consideration in the penultimate game of their regular season.
On Friday, the Suns inked Vogel to a five-year, $31 million contract, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Last week, Vogel was named one of five finalists for the job alongside two assistant coaches, Doc Rivers, and Nick Nurse. After Nick Nurse accepted the Sixers job that reunited him with his former boss Daryl Morey, the Suns’ options became clearer. They had to take the best of the rest and Doc Rivers would have been a tough sell after his catastrophic three-year stretch in Philly.
Suns needed a veteran coach
With all due respect to Suns assistant Kevin Young and Sacramento Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez, this wasn’t a job management could afford to take a chance on a first-timer with. Vogel replaces Monty Williams, who was made the NBA’s highest-paid coach on Thursday. Vogel is earning half of Williams’ 13 million contract despite being a more accomplished coach. In three seasons as the Lakers’ head coach, Vogel went 127-98. Prior to that he coached the Orlando Magic for two seasons, and had his breakout success with the Indiana Pacers at the beginning of the 2010s, leading them to the playoffs every year but one, and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. In the 10 seasons he’s been a head coach, Vogel has been the defensive Mike D’Antoni, with seven teams ranking among the top 10 in defensive rating and three times finishing first.
An emphasis on defense
Vogel’s coaching history has emphasized the defensive end as the root of his team’s success. The scoring will come naturally now that he’s coaching an offense spearheaded by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The challenge for Vogel will be getting the most out of a roster that was depleted by the trade that brought them their greatest asset.
Vogel has experience in that arena as well though, assuming control in 2019 of a Laker team that was hollowed out by the trade which brought Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. Vogel will start a job that is pre-cooked on the Larry O’Brien Trophy grill. Vogel’s job is to craft a role for an aging Chris Paul. Amazingly, CP3 was still able to register more assists per night than all but 10 players, despite his body experiencing the final stages of rigor mortis. Due to his ballooning salary, the ideal trade Jones could make for Paul’s creaky joints would be with a med school that needs skeletons. Chances are, Paul will return.
Whether or not DeAndre Ayton is on the roster next season depends on how team president James Jones approaches restructuring the roster. However, in Vogel’s past stops he’s shown a preference for boa constrictor bigs who can choke off the paint and blot out the rim. Ayton’s 1.2 blocks per 48 minutes ranked outside the top 125 rotation players. However, he often appeared disgruntled with being in Phoenix in general.
That meager average put him behind guards such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Suns teammate Kevin Durant, who swatted 2.8 shots per 48, or Bismack Biyombo, whose 4.2 blocks per 48 minutes ranked fourth in the entire league. Ayton doesn’t fit the mold of Vogel centers in the lineage of Roy Hibbert to Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.
More importantly, Vogel has experience in high-pressure win-now environments. After grinding through three seasons in L.A. with aplomb, Vogel never lost his composure. If anything, he was the victim of circumstance in L.A. as James and Davis missed vast amounts of time after winning a title in their first go-round in 2020.
Vogel is an adrenaline-killing coach. The Suns won’t be fun to play. In fact, his teams will cause sleep crust to begin accumulating around your eyes, but give him a healthy roster with a high basketball IQ and you can practically guarantee he’ll get your team to the Conference Finals.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex