The Phoenix Suns face a narrow window to win an NBA championship with aging stars Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, and they hired Frank Vogel to deliver the franchise’s first title.
Vogel has a championship pedigree and won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2019-20 season.
During 11 seasons as an NBA head coach, which included stints with the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, Vogel has a career record of 431-389. He also has a 49-39 postseason record with one championship.
The Lakers fired Vogel in April 2022 after an embarrassing 2021-22 season when the Lakers missed the playoffs and failed to qualify for the play-in tournament.
This was a rare NBA offseason with several head coaches available for hire who previously won a championship including Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse, Doc Rivers, and Vogel.
The Sun pursued Nurse, but he accepted a job with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Suns narrowed down their search to Vogel and associate coach Kevin Young. With Durant not getting any younger and Paul in the twilight of his career, the Suns did not want to gamble on a rookie head coach with Young.
The Suns are +850 odds to win the 2023-24 NBA championship, and currently the fourth-highest team on DraftKings’ futures board. The Suns were 45-37 last season. They earned the #4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but were eliminated in the second round.
Quick Hook for Monty Williams
Monty Williams led the Suns to a trip to the 2021 NBA Finals, but they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. With that success, the Suns became one of the top title contenders from the Western Conference.
In 2021-22, the Suns won a franchise-record 64 games and secured the #1 seed in the playoffs. Instead of returning to the NBA Finals and winning a championship, the Suns were knocked out in the conference semifinals.
The Suns upgrade their team by acquiring Durant at the trade deadline. The Brooklyn Nets agreed to a blockbuster deal that secured them multiple first-round draft picks and key players like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder.
The Suns only finished in fourth place in the Western Confernece, but the addition of Durant made them a popular pick to win the championship. Title odds jumped from +1800 to +450 overnight after the Suns acquired Durant.
Even with Durant, the Suns were eliminated in the conference semifinals for a second year in a row. The top-seeded Denver Nuggets picked off the Suns in six games.
Similar to their ugly exit in the 2022 playoffs, the Suns had another disappointing performance in an elimination game against the Nuggets. In their defense, the Suns did not have two starters in the lineup. Paul had been out with a groin injury since the second game of the series, and center Deandre Ayton sustained a ribs contusion in Game 5.
The Suns parted ways with Williams less than 48 hours after the Suns were eliminated from the postseason. The Suns were trounced in their last two postseason exits, which is why team owner Mat Ishbia decided the team needed a chance.
Vogel: A New Hope in Phoenix
Ishbia purchased the Suns for $4 billion in the middle of last season. He wanted to handpick a new head coach heading into Durant’s first full season in Phoenix.
Vogel signed a five-year deal with the Suns worth $31.25 million. This is deep discount considering that Williams will earn $13.1 million per season coaching the last-place Detroit Pistons. Williams never won a title, and he’s going to earn more than twice as much as Vogel as the NBA’s highest-paid head coach.
Williams clashed with Ayton, which is another reason why the Suns wanted to bring in a new coach. Ayton averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game in the regular season, but completed disappeared in the second round by averaging 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game against the Denver Nuggets. The Suns hope Vogel can help Ayton reach his full potential in the postseason with inspired play on both ends of the court.
Vogel is a defensive-minded head coach, which is an area where the Suns need improvement. Vogel coached the NBA’s top defensive rated team three times in his career, including twice with the Pacers and once with the Lakers.
The Suns have plenty of offense with All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker and Durant. They could use an additional scorer off the bench, but that’s easy to find. It’s much harder to find a coach with a defensive philosophy, and someone who can implement in-game adjustments. The team feels Vogel is the right man for the job.
The Asterisk and Scapegoat in L.A.
Let’s get this out of the way: Vogel led the Lakers to the championship, and some fans would like to see an asterisk next to the Lakers in the record books.
There’s a vocal segment of fans who dismiss the Lakers championship run inside the NBA Bubble, and these are not just L.A. haters. The pandemic shortened and postponed the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season. The delayed postseason played out inside the NBA bubble in Disneyworld without fans. Teams lacked a true home-court advantage, but did not have to deal with any travel woes.
The Lakers were a hot mess after they defeated the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals. They miscalculated with the addition of point guard Russell Westbrook, and Vogel became the scapegoat for that crucial staffing error. Westbrook and Vogel clashed on the first day of practice, which set the tone for Westbrook’s tenuous tenure in the City of Angels. It’s easy to look back at that moment in training camp and pinpoint that was the beginning of the end for Vogel.
The front office considered firing Vogel multiple times during that tumultuous season, but owner Jeanie Buss waited until the end of the season to dismiss Vogel.
The Lakers brought in Darvin Ham to replace vogel, and finally traded Westbrook at the deadline in February. As soon the Lakers jettisoned Westbrook, they turned around their season and made a big push to secure a spot in the playoffs. The Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals as the #7 seed, but were swept by the top-seeded Nuggets.
The Lakers are +1000 odds to win the championship next season as the fifth-highest team on the NBA futures board, and they’re right behind the Suns at +850.
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