Imagine if the Phoenix Suns had hired Doc Rivers as their head coach

The Phoenix Suns hired Frank Vogel to be their head coach last summer, but in another life, it could have been Doc Rivers at the helm this season.

2024 NBA All-Star - Practice
2024 NBA All-Star - Practice / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

With the final stretch of the NBA's regular season about to get underway after the All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns are locked in to try and secure the highest seed possible. They sit in the fifth spot in the Western Conference, are eleven games over .500 and should get Bradley Beal back from a hamstring injury to join Devin Booker and Kevin Durant soon.

Current head coach Frank Vogel isn't likely to get a lot of credit for helping to turn the season around for the Suns, but he certainly should. Already this season he has had to deal with Beal's injuries, multiple dust-ups between Jusuf Nurkic and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and looking on as some role players voiced their displeasure at how they were being used by Vogel.

There was a chance that Doc Rivers could have been running this team instead of Vogel and had that happened, what would it have been like?

Last offseason before the Suns' organization hired coach Vogel, they had whittled their selection down to a final three. This was widely reported to have included Vogel, their own assistant Kevin Young (who is still on the team) and Rivers. At that point Rivers was doing media work with ESPN and occasionally popping up on The Ringer, and he seemed like a man happy not to be coaching.

But then the Milwaukee Bucks fired their own first time head coach in Adrian Griffin - at a time when he had the Bucks second in the Eastern Conference - and Rivers got the call. This led to Rivers somewhat awkwardly coaching the East at the All-Star game, although he has since said he would have preferred to have taken over after the midseason exhibition was complete.

It has not gone well for Rivers since then, with the Bucks 4-7 since he took over and losers of seven of their last 10 games. Considering there is a world where Rivers could have been calling the shots in The Valley, what would that have looked like? And how ugly would this season have gotten with a different head coach in command?

Rivers is always spoken about as a player who knows what superstars want, and who gets the best out of them. Only he's had a lot of stars to work with through the years, and he has blown more 3-1 playoff series leads than any other head coach in NBA history. That might seem unfair as he also went all the way with the 2008 Boston Celtics, but that's never felt more further away.

He failed to make it work with Joel Embiid and James Harden with the Philadelphia 76ers, while his tenure with a Chris Paul led L.A. Clippers didn't bring a championship either. So what would he have done differently - or more importantly better - than coach Vogel with these Suns? He's not a better defensive coach, and it is unclear if he could have made it work with assistant coach Young either.

What is more likely is that he would have wanted to bring in his own guys, and Vogel again deserves credit here for making it work with Young when the front office and Booker are such big fans of his. In theory his job should have been under more threat earlier in the season, yet coach Vogel kept it moving and kept it drama free.

So if Rivers is not a better defensive-minded coach, and if he had canned one of the brightest offensive minds in the league in Young, how much worse would this season have been for the Suns? Booker would have likely been out on him for ditching Young, while it remains to be seen how Durant would have reacted to working with Rivers as well.

Perhaps worst of all, Rivers had the above unfortunate soundbite come out after All-Star weekend was in the books. You can understand the point he is trying to make - that Griffin was doing a great job and he was back doing media work - but it is going to be used as further ammunition that his time with the Bucks is not going to go well.

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Rivers never would have made a comment like that if he was with the Suns, but it is hard to believe there wouldn't have been some sort of controversy around this group this season. It is also unlikely Rivers would have handled it quite as well as coach Vogel has, all while managing to get something out of Bol Bol and shipping out four players for two at the trade deadline.

Mostly though the Suns needed a steady hand at a perhaps the most crucial crossroads in their history to get them closer to a championship. Their window remains open for now, but it is unclear how long their current trio of stars will remain together. Coach Vogel has ensured he does all of his best work in the background, and having Rivers in his place would have been an absolute disaster.