Frank Vogel teams tend to fit a similar profile. He has coached three No. 1-ranked defenses between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers. The last of those three came in 2021, when the Lakers had the No. 1 ranking despite lengthy absences from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and in 2020, Vogel’s defense led the Lakers to a championship.
But on the other end of the spectrum, Vogel’s offenses have always left something to be desired. The Lakers didn’t even rank in the top 10 when they won it all in 2020, and even then, their success largely came in transition. His last two Laker teams ranked 22nd and 24th in offense, respectively, and his Pacers teams weren’t much better. For all of his gifts as a head coach, Vogel has never been great at scheming offenses.
The Phoenix Suns, who hired Vogel as their new head coach on Friday, are paying quite a bit to solve that problem. The apparent runner-up to Vogel for Phoenix’s head-coaching job was top assistant Kevin Young, who designed Monty Williams’ pick-and-roll offense and has earned high praise for his X’s and O’s acumen. Young would have had no shortage of opportunities elsewhere after missing on the head-coaching job, but Vogel and Suns owner Mat Ishbia have reportedly convinced him to remain in Phoenix, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Doing so wasn’t cheap. According to Wojnarowski, Ishbia is making Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the NBA. Young will earn $2 million per year as Vogel’s top aide, and while that positions Vogel to succeed with the Suns, it also puts quite a bit of pressure on him.
If Vogel doesn’t work out quickly, the Suns have kept a qualified head-coaching candidate in the building. This is a situation Vogel has effectively navigated in the past, when the Lakers hired Jason Kidd, whom they also interviewed for their head-coaching job, as Vogel’s top assistant in Los Angeles. Kidd was a favorite of Lakers star LeBron James, so if Vogel had struggled, the Lakers would have had a seemingly viable choice to turn to if they’d wanted to move on. Instead, the Lakers started his first season 24-3 and won a championship, and by the time the Lakers were wary of Vogel, Kidd was the head coach of the Mavericks.
But similar situations have gone the other way in the past. When the Cleveland Cavaliers hired David Blatt in 2015, they also hired runner-up Ty Lue as an assistant. Less than two years later, Lue led the Cavaliers to a championship as their head coach. The Suns, operating fully on a win-now timeline, likely expect Vogel to win the championship or come really close this season. If he doesn’t? Young is waiting in the wings.
Whether it’s in Phoenix or somewhere else, Young will likely be a head coach in the NBA relatively soon. By paying him this much, the Suns have ensured that they will have the opportunity to elevate him if they need to. But in a perfect world? He and Vogel’s complementary skill sets will lead the Suns to a championship.