When an employee is fired, blame for the termination is usually on the employee themself.
In the case of Frank Vogel, that is not necessarily the case.
And the reason for that is because the Magic could have had Red Auerbach as their head coach, with an assistant coaching staff of Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, John Wooden and basketball inventor James Naismith himself, and still not have had much success with the roster the Magic had assembled.
Particularly with the injury-ravaged season the Magic endured.
Expecting Vogel to turn the Magic around in two years with the cast of characters he was forced to use in his rotations was unreasonable. For a bulk of his tenure, he had a starting point guard in Elfrid Payton who couldn’t shoot in a league that prioritizes spacing and couldn’t defend in a league filled with explosive penetrators. He had a starting center in Nikola Vucevic that, while productive offensively, offered no rim protection or pick-and-roll coverage. He was saddled with a back-up center in Bismack Biyombo, who had a limited to non-existent offensive skill set and a hefty $17 million per year salary. He was forced to incorporate Serge Ibaka into a lineup that, while in desperate need of rim protection, had nowhere to put him without playing Aaron Gordon out of position. And of course, he was denied the opportunity to coach players like Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo.
Add all of this up and the blame for Vogel’s firing can be summed up in two words: Rob Hennigan.
Much of the Magic’s futility over the last half decade or so has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Magic’s former general manager, who orchestrated poor signings, impatient trades and questionable hires. Hennigan has been at the forefront of the Magic’s coaching instability. He hired an inexperienced coach in Jacque Vaughn, who proved to be ill-equipped for the position. He clashed with Scott Skilies, leading to the sudden departure of a fan favorite.
Hennigan then made moves of desperation, failing to give Vogel the tools he needed to succeed. With the roster he had, Vogel was asked to paint a masterpiece with a box of crayons.
But that’s not to say that Vogel, or the players on the Magic, are without partial blame. While Vogel modernized the Magic’s offense by prioritizing the three-point shot, the offensive execution the Magic displayed under his tutelage was often stagnant and without any semblance of rhythm or chemistry. Gordon, presumed to be one of the team’s building blocks, took a step forward this season but not the leap most expected, failing to adhere at times to Vogel’s lessons on shot selection. Vogel failed to replicate the hard-nosed defensive identity that helped make the Pacers successful during his time as coach of Indiana.
Do those failures warrant termination? Probably not. At least not yet anyway. Not when it is so clear that Vogel wasn’t the problem for the Magic.
In this case, from the outside looking in at least, it seems Vogel wasn’t necessarily fired for the product on the court, for being unable to deliver progress in his two years at the helm of the Magic, or for failing to develop the Magic’s core players, one or more of which are generally the primary reasons that NBA coaches lose their jobs. Frank Vogel is no longer the coach of the Orlando Magic because he wasn’t the guy that his supervisors picked for the job.
Jeff Weltman and John Hammond are pressing the reset button. They’ll look for a coach that fits into their system rather than trying to find pieces that fit into Vogel’s. And with a rebuilding team, they’ll likely look for a long-term coach that is less established, a coach that can be groomed, and a coach that in some ways can be controlled from the offices far above the court.
And that coach is not Frank Vogel.