PHOENIX – The direction of the Phoenix Suns franchise has been ambiguous of late.
New owner Mat Ishbia swiftly introduced himself to the Valley by completing purchases of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury ahead of the NBA trade deadline in February. Since then, he influenced a trade of young building blocks and heavy draft capital for 34-year-old superstar Kevin Durant. Then, following a second-straight conference semifinals exit, Monty Williams, one of three coaches to take the franchise to the NBA Finals, was told he had coached his last game for the Suns.
Suns fans desperate for any hint as to Ishbia and general manager James Jones’ vision for the direction of the franchise need only watch Tuesday’s press conference introducing Frank Vogel as the new head coach.
“As we move forward, we needed another leader,” Jones said, “someone that could elevate us to the next level. And through this process, after talking to many great candidates, many amazing coaches, we settled on the guy we think has all the qualities: leadership, honesty, integrity, championship experience, a love for the game, a passion for the community. Those are the attributes and the traits that Frank embodied. So, I’m excited, I hope everyone is as excited as we are, to call Frank the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns.”
Vogel, 49, has a 431-389 record in 11 seasons as a head coach for the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers. Known for emphasizing team defense and toughness, Vogel’s teams have led the league in defensive rating three times and made the playoffs in seven of his 11 coaching seasons.
Most importantly for the Suns, Vogel brings championship experience from winning the NBA Finals with the Lakers in 2020. He also has experience coaching superstar-level players, which is imperative when expecting a roster including Durant and Devin Booker to buy in to a new system.
“This is the beginning of a new era in Phoenix Suns basketball,” Vogel said, “and it’s going to be an exciting one. We are committed to bringing in championship-level talent. I will be committed to bringing a championship-level culture on and off the court. A culture centered around hard work, toughness, intelligence, teamwork, and when we get out there and play, we’re going to be scrappy as hell. We’re going to be a scrappy team that plays harder than our opponent every night, and we’re going to be a team that makes this community very proud.”
Vogel will have a considerable amount of help this season, as he and the Suns are also in the process of establishing a world-class coaching staff to surround their newest hire.
Associate head coach Kevin Young, who has been with the Suns organization since 2021, was considered for Vogel’s position and interviewed with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets this spring before reportedly signing a deal Saturday to stay with Phoenix as the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coach.
“I have a great deal of respect for his offensive mind,” Vogel said of Young. “When you’re on the cusp of becoming a head coach, you’re a great coach on both sides of the ball. I believe in what he brings to the table both ways.”
This news was followed two days later by a report that the Suns are also adding former Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale. Fizdale has championship experience with both Vogel and Jones, having worked under Vogel as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2021-22 season and as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat while Jones was a player there.
With the recent arrivals of Durant, Fizdale and Vogel, it’s safe to say there’s now legitimate championship experience on all levels of the Suns organization. In theory, this experience can make up for the almost successes that have plagued the organization in recent years.
After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals, the Suns have faced consecutive second-round exits in brutal blowout fashions to the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.
Two days after Denver ended the Suns’ 2022-23 season, Williams was let go as coach.
Williams went 194-115 and 27-19 in the playoffs in four full seasons with the Suns. He won the NBA’s 2021-22 Coach of the Year award after clinching the top seed in the Western Conference with a franchise-best 64-18 record.
“A hard decision had to be made about where do we go next,” Jones said regarding the decision to move on from Williams. “Going forward, we knew we needed an injection, a different voice, a different vision. It’s really just that simple. As we evaluated where we were and where we wanted to go, we just saw a gap that needed filling.”
Whether Vogel is the man to fill that gap remains to be seen. He certainly checks all the requisite boxes, and the Suns and Ishbia are behind him.
With the current roster construction, the Suns seemingly have a championship window that relies on the sustained health and production from its superstars. Vogel’s ability to attract high-level talent can certainly help shape the surrounding roster and lengthen that window, and Suns fans can rejoice that a painful rebuild doesn’t seem to be on Vogel’s radar.
“The firepower that we have with those two (Durant and Booker) prolific, savage scorers, with Chris (Paul) and DeAndre (Ayton) at the point guard and center position, and a lot of other pieces, I feel like we can do great things right away,” Vogel said. “Our expectations are to go for it this year and hopefully every year I’m here.”