Suns' failure isn't Vogel's fault, but that might not be enough to save him

Atlanta Hawks v Phoenix Suns
Atlanta Hawks v Phoenix Suns / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

In a press conference on Wednesday, Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia was noncommittal on coach Frank Vogel’s future. That was expected, if not a bit irritating to fans who want to move on from Vogel.

When a team has an uneven season leading up to a massive postseason disappointment, it’s natural to wonder if a coaching change is on the horizon, especially when it’s one of the easier moves to make. 

But firing Vogel would be passing the blame to someone who was far down on the list of reasons why the Suns were an early exit. He’s a defensive-minded coach that wasn’t given the necessary tools a coach like that needs to succeed. 

For a brief window last summer, the Suns did look like a typical Frank Vogel team. They had drafted Toumani Camara shortly after hiring him, and Deandre Ayton was still on the team.

Every successful Vogel team has featured a strong interior defending big man along with switchable defensive wings, so the hire seemed perfect. But the Suns traded both players for Jusuf Nurkić and Grayson Allen who, despite having good regular seasons, aren't known for their defense.

The trade left the Suns with more poor defenders than good ones, and a defensive liability at center- the most important defensive position. Despite the defensive deficiencies of the roster, Vogel still coached it to the 12th best defensive rating in the league.

That obviously didn’t carry over into the postseason, but that was more on the personnel getting exposed than anything Vogel had control over. Detractors of the preseason trade had their worst fears realized as Nurk was constantly exploited on defense against the Minnesota Timberwolves, forcing the Suns to go small, something else Vogel isn't comfortable with.

Vogel also showed a far greater willingness to adjust and try out different lineups and players than Monty Williams had in years past. And while Vogel became more rigid in his rotations toward the end of the year, that’s a common thing to do as you gear up for the postseason. 

That’s not to say Vogel was without his flaws this year. The team looked wildly unprepared to open up some of the bigger games. The lack of composure in fourth quarters also never really improved, although that can be attributed to not having a point guard, something he reportedly wanted.

Vogel always preached the correct things during interviews to fix those ailments, but it’s on the coach to make sure the message is being received. 

The offense was also far too inconsistent considering the firepower on the roster, but it might not entirely be Vogel’s fault either. The Suns paid Kevin Young big money to stay aboard after Williams’ was fired to help run the offense.

Only people within the Suns organization know how big Young’s role was pertaining to the offense, so it’s possible a heap of those issues could be attributed to him and not Vogel.

Starting from square one isn't best, but it might happen anyway

Still, that might not be enough to save Vogel’s job. If the Suns want a proven offensive coach he would likely want to be the head man in charge, rather than an assistant. Promoting someone to run the offense from within the Suns coaching staff would be uninspiring to say the least.

And while the Suns future isn’t as bleak, nor their asset chest as barren as some believe, they are still limited in the moves they can make this offseason. A revamp of the supporting cast to better fit Vogel’s coaching style would be hard to pull off. 

Further increasing Vogel’s chances of being one and done were the contents of a flurry of reporting after the Suns were eliminated. Those reports highlighted Vogel’s messaging falling on deaf ears, along with questions on how Kevin Durant was used this year. If a coach isn’t getting through to his players then a breakup becomes that much more likely. 

Despite that, it's still in the Suns' best interest to keep Vogel and surround him with better fitting talent so those messages have an easier time of being received. Firing him means the Suns are once again starting from square one. The feeling out process will reset. It's a dangerous move to make with the Suns' window one year closer to being closed.

At that press conference both Ishbia and general manager James Jones preached patience and continuity. Whether that applies to Vogel will depend on how much they attribute this season’s failure to him, as well as how much they think they can alter the roster to better fit his coaching style.