The newest Orlando Magic regime has made its third head coaching choice in its attempts to swim back to relevance in the post-Dwight Howard era.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel was the first to report on Thursday that the team will hire Frank Vogel as its new head coach.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Vogel, who ran the Pacers from 2011 until the team’s first round exit last month, was also a surprise fire in the wake of what was a return to form for Indiana this season.
Vogel, 42, fits the profile Magic officials set for Skiles’ successor: someone who emphasizes the defensive end of the court and someone who relates well to players.
The personnel helped, to be sure, but Vogel certainly knows defense.
The Pacers coach led the team to the NBA’s third-best ranking on that end this season, and consecutive top defensive ranks in 2013 and 2014. His Indiana teams gave LeBron James’ Miami Heat all it could handle in both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs, taking the eventual champs to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals just three years ago.
Though the Pacers worked with the NBA’s best record for a large part of 2013-14, the team faltered badly down the stretch prior to running through unimpressive first and second round victories in the playoffs and an eventual defeat at the hands of the Heat on the Conference finals. The team’s inability to play from ahead while working with expectations, whether this was the fault of the coach or not, was on clear display.
Three months after the squad’s second consecutive playoff loss to Miami in 2014, swingman and MVP candidate Paul George broke his leg during a Team USA scrimmage, knocking him out for most of 2014-15. Indiana understandably missed the playoffs that season, while team president Larry Bird noticed the team’s inability to cope with a changing NBA. The Pacers would have to go small upon George’s return in 2015-16, he stated, prior to dealing stalwart center Roy Hibbert to Los Angeles.
George chafed at Bird’s recommendation that he play power forward, and Vogel took his player’s side in the matter after the first month of this season. The team’s up and down play, in spite of a return to form from Paul George, no doubt displeased the president: Bird admitted that he thought of dismissing Vogel as coach during the All-Star break.
He needn’t, as Vogel’s contract ran out following the season. Bird declined to offer him a new one, and Vogel (who put up a 250-181 record as Pacers coach) was effectively fired.
A week later, Scott Skiles resigned as Magic coach.
Skiles seemed like an apt fit for a Magic team attempting to turn the corner with defensive-minded athletes. I wrote upon his hire one year ago that the Magic (unlike the two previous organizations that Skiles had coached for) had better hire an obvious replacement once Skiles eventually tired of his position and players. We thought that rash of ennui would take place a few years from now, following what is usually a honeymoon period for the former Magic point guard.
Typically, Skiles’ teams bust their tails in their first year of action, playing strong defensive ball and overwhelming opponents with an unrelenting attack. The Magic started 19-13 in Skiles’ first year, but the squad’s 16-34 finish to the season cast a cloud over the expected defensive improvement (which ran from 25th to 16th). Orlando dealt solid hybrid forward and former Skiles combatant Tobias Harris to Detroit midseason in exchange for former Brandon Jennings, who had worked under Skiles in Milwaukee.
Skiles didn’t seem to mind that Jennings was to become a free agent this summer and that the Magic had already spent a lottery pick on point guard Elfrid Payton, or that Harris was working with a reasonable contract. A reported attempt to usurp the personnel power from general manager Rob Hennigan and his deputy Matt Lloyd led to an accelerated version of Skiles’ typical dissatisfaction, and he left the gig just one year into a four-year contract.
Frank Vogel, presumably, will drive the team’s defense into the upper half of the league, while catering to player needs as the Magic’s young core develops.
That core was hard to come by. Hennigan and Lloyd inherited absolutely no trade leverage with Dwight Howard when they took over in 2012, and the team’s first rebuilding year only left the team with a lottery pick in one of the worst drafts in NBA history in 2013. Most applauded the franchise’s hire of Jacque Vaughn in 2012, the cerebral former NBA guard and then-San Antonio assistant was thought to be the league’s next great coach, and even the hire of Skiles was understood to an extent.
This is to say that things haven’t worked out in Orlando, but these setbacks certainly weren’t expected by most initially.
Vogel will be the next leader expected to take the Magic back into the playoffs, working with a roster that is currently bereft of All-Star candidates, and what will be the 11th pick in June’s NBA draft. He will have his work cut out for him, as Orlando hopes that the third time will act as the charm.
- - - - - - -