Head coach Frank Vogel fired by Phoenix Suns

May 9, 2024, 1:25 PM | Updated: 6:11 pm

The Phoenix Suns have fired head coach Frank Vogel after one season, the team announced Thursday.

“As we said at the press conference on May 1, team leadership including myself, Josh Bartelstein and ownership would be looking across basketball operations to determine what changes needed to be made,” Suns president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones said. “After a thoughtful review of the season, we concluded that we needed a different head coach for our team. We appreciate Frank’s hard work and commitment.

“We are here to win a championship and last season was way below our expectations. We will continue to evaluate our operation and make the necessary changes to reach our championship-caliber goals. We all take accountability, and it’s my job, along with Josh and ownership, to build a championship team.”

The move by the Suns under Mat Ishbia comes after Vogel said before Game 4 of a first-round series loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that he was “very” confident he would return for 2024-25, adding that he believed he had the “full support of Mat Ishbia.”

Former Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be a prominent part of the coaching search, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The sweep by the T-Wolves ended a massively disappointing postseason finish and was a far cry from the championship expectations set upon Vogel’s arrival.

While Phoenix finished with a 49-33 record, it was disjointed and sloppy all season. The Suns had clear problems developing into a cohesive unit and that led to struggles in basic areas, which made it impossible to figure out what the group’s identity was. There were points during the 82-game campaign when it looked like the Suns were clicking into place, and just when that occurred, the same issues would rise back to the surface.

This all came to a head in the postseason, when their inconsistencies were greatly exposed against a quality opponent. The Suns showed some positives against Minnesota before they started to spiral out of control in the mid-third quarter across the first three consecutive contests, failing to make any of them competitive in the final period. Phoenix put together a competitive Game 4 but ultimately struggled to execute down the stretch to seal the sweep with a 122-116 loss.

Through whatever the lack of connectivity was a result of behind the scenes, as well as their own inability to step up above the circumstances, the Suns’ hyped-up Big 3 of Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant all played poorly in the series. None of them were able to reach a special level in the first three games, another telling sign a change in the leadership dynamic was needed.

The Athletic dropped a report under an hour after the Suns were eliminated, noting a few troubling signs for Vogel’s future. He “lit into” the team after a poor loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the last week of the regular season, only for his players to not buy his passion then and at shootaround the next day. Players questioned the offensive system put together by coaches, including Durant never feeling comfortable in his role.

Vogel was hired by Phoenix after it let go of head coach Monty Williams last offseason. Williams immediately rebuilt the Suns into a respectable, competitive team in his first year before their surprising run to the NBA Finals in 2021. Expectations rose, and despite them winning 64 games the following year, Phoenix bowed out in the second round.

It did so again the following season, with both elimination game losses coming in embarrassing blowout fashion at Footprint Center.

That was enough for Williams’ tenure to end, even though he had a few years left on his most recent contract extension. His exit came shortly after the Suns and Phoenix Mercury were sold by Robert Sarver to Ishbia. The new owner traded for Durant at the trade deadline in Feb. 2023, and the core of the roster continued to reset from there with Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton departing for Beal, Jusuf Nurkic and Grayson Allen.

Nonetheless, it meant Vogel was expected to have Phoenix remain among the elite of the NBA and win a title.

Frank Vogel fired after Suns failed to meet expectations

Vogel had previously achieved this level of success in his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019-20, and given his defensive background on a team full of offensive talent, the fit seemed to be there.

The Suns not only didn’t come close to reaching their end goal but were never in the realm of looking like a team that could do so, with the regular season lacking any minor spurt that suggested Vogel’s team was capable.

Phoenix began the season 14-15, dealing with injuries to Durant, Booker and mainly Beal through a battle to establish any sort of continuity. On top of that, season-long problems of execution in the fourth quarter and turnovers popped up early and often. A loss on Christmas to the Dallas Mavericks was marked as the starting point of a potential turnaround, with the Suns going 19-7 from there up to the All-Star break.

Vogel’s Suns had learned how to at least win, but the roots were dug in from the first 29 games across the majority of that more promising stretch.

Phoenix was often unorganized, lacking proper structure on both ends. The offense would bounce between running proper, movement-heavy sets before slowing down the pace and relying on isolation-style basketball. The defense immensely lacked the execution as a team to compensate for its inability to contain dribble penetration within its scheme. This forced the Suns into rotations often and it was a rare sight to see more than a few each game involving multiple efforts that were sound.

On top of that, the Suns were a historically bad team in the fourth quarter. The way they turned the ball over was alarming, often of the live-ball variety with mind-numbing decision-making in unforced errors. Despite a team-wide understanding of the group requiring more 3-point shots, they were constantly getting out-gunned in attempts. This made Phoenix play uphill most nights, battling the math of losing the possession battle on turnovers and the math battle on 3-pointers.

All of this came to a head after the All-Star break, when the Suns regressed instead of improving. They continuously dropped games to a mix of poor teams and opponents without the opposing best player. A lot of it was off an evident lack of energy, effort and focus, shocking characteristics for a Suns group that was facing a play-in tournament fate.

A stunning pair of fixtures against the Clippers in the last week of the regular season indicated Vogel’s team had entirely checked out and was ready to go to the play-in tournament before a brief spark via two victories to end the season got Phoenix the sixth seed in the playoff bracket. This led to some optimism that the Suns had perhaps turned the corner at the last second possible before the first round showed that was not the case.

Vogel’s one-year tenure with the Suns ends his fourth head coaching stint in the NBA. He got started as one with the Indiana Pacers in the 2010-11 season on an interim basis before earning the permanent position for five more seasons. The Pacers went 250-181 and made two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.

His contract was not renewed in 2016 and he was quickly scooped up by the Orlando Magic, a less successful stint of a 54-110 record across two years that had him fired.

After a year off, Vogel was brought on by the Lakers in the summer of 2019 and won the aforementioned title right away. L.A. then lost in the first round the next season before going 33-49 in Vogel’s final season before he was fired.

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