Frank Vogel spent the last year getting paid the full sum of the one-year contract extension he secured less than a year before being fired by the Los Angeles Lakers, but he didn’t wait long after that to take his next coaching gig. According to multiple reports on Friday, he will be taking the reins as the next Phoenix Suns head coach, beating out veteran head coach and Kendrick Perkins enthusiast Doc Rivers (who hilariously withdrew his name approximately 10 minutes before news of Vogel’s hire broke) and well-regarded Suns assistant (and presumed favorite for the job) Kevin Young.
With Vogel now taking over the lead chair for the Suns, he will also have to fill out his bench. It remains to be seen if he will be able to retain Young, but whenever a recently dismissed head coach gets a new gig elsewhere, it’s usually worth watching the bench of his former team to see if he raids their assistant coaching corps.
Jason Kidd brought a number of familiar Lakers faces from Vogel’s original staff to the Dallas Mavericks, so their bench will be one to watch as well, but as far as remaining Lakers connections, the team still has several assistants both in front of and behind the bench that were carryovers from Vogel’s staff.
Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times rounded up all the names on Twitter:
South Bay Lakers coach Miles Simon also worked with Vogel— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) June 2, 2023
Simon was actually the only Luke Walton front-of-bench assistant to remain with the Lakers after Walton’s dismissal, but the name Lakers fans are most familiar with — and care about most — among the names on that list will obviously be Phil Handy.
Update: Vogel will retain Young as his top assistant, which may rule out a Handy pursuit.
Suns associate HC Kevin Young will stay on new coach Frank Vogel’s staff for a deal that’ll make him the league’s highest paid assistant, sources tell ESPN. Young was a finalist for job that Vogel landed with Phoenix.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 3, 2023
Original story continues below.
Handy, one of the most renowned skills coaches in the NBA even before being hired by Vogel in 2019, was the only front-of-bench assistant Darvin Ham retained from Vogel’s staff in Los Angeles. He has previously stated that his goal is to be a head coach, but he’s not even the Lakers’ lead assistant, with that spot being occupied by Ham’s first hire, Chris Jent, who like Handy comes from a player development and skills training background.
Could that goal for elevation in role (and potentially salary, given Phoenix’s willingness to spend) be enough motivation for Handy to jump ship if Vogel were to hypothetically offer him a lead assistant role? None of us can know for certain right now.
But if the Lakers were to lose him, Handy’s absence would be felt. Not only is he one of the lone faces remaining from the team’s 2020 championship run, but he has also been instrumental in the development of two of the key free agents the Lakers are looking to retain this summer: Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura.
Reaves was clearly a favorite Handy project during his rookie year and made one of the best sophomore leaps you’ll see in the NBA during year two, and Hachimura credited Handy multiple times with helping him take his own leap in the postseason this year (via Elliot Teaford of The O.C. Register):
“I’ve been working out with Phil and Phil was always telling me how the playoffs were going to be, how those shots are going to be and how I’m going to be a really important part of this team,” Hachimura said. “Mentally, I was getting ready for this, for this moment. I just like those big moments, those big games. That’s how I get my strength and everything out. You know, how my mind was, I’m ready for this.”
Handy has been a keen observer of Hachimura since he was at Gonzaga.
“He’s been watching my games since I was in college, so he knows my game,” Hachimura said. “It’s easy working with him. He knows my game. He likes my game. He knows what I need to work on. Since I got here, I feel like I’ve been working out with him and it’s been really great working out with him.”
None of this is to suggest that the Lakers’ entire infrastructure would collapse if Handy were to leave, or that such a departure is imminent. These things take time, and with all due respect to Handy’s talents clearly being more prodigious than most assistants, even he would likely admit that no coach is that important.
However, Handy has clearly been a real weapon for the Lakers as they’ve looked to get the most out of their players and help their younger additions improve, not to mention he’s a voice that LeBron James and Anthony Davis clearly respect. If Vogel were to lure him away with more money, a bigger role, or both, the Lakers would definitely feel it. We’ll see if such a pursuit takes shape, but in terms of purple-and-gold-tinged storylines to watch for in the wake of today’s big news, that feels like the main one.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.