Orlando Magic Dismiss Frank Vogel as Head Coach

by John Denton

ORLANDO – When the Orlando Magic hired Frank Vogel as head coach slightly less than two years ago, he was tasked with cultivating the young talent on hand and getting the franchise back in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

When neither of those things occurred at all or on a consistent enough basis over the past two seasons, Vogel was relieved of his duties as the Magic’s head coach on Thursday.

``We said from the outset that we’re going to take the year to evaluate and we took the whole year,’’ said Weltman, who has worked in tandem this season with GM John Hammond. ``There’s no `ahhh-ha’ moment, no date, there’s no event that kind of clicked into place. It was just looking at the season, weighing all of the information, game-by-game, day-by-day and adding it all up at the end of the season.’’

Vogel, 44, came to Orlando in May of 2016 with the strong pedigree of having had tremendous success previously as head coach of the Indiana Pacers for 5½ seasons. However, he was unable to repeat that same sort of winning in Orlando, compiling a disappointing 54-110 record over the past two seasons with the Magic.

``It’s part of the business; it’s (going to be) our fifth coach in five years, so we’re not new to coach changes,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. ``Frank did an excellent job of keeping the spirits high all the way throughout the season and continued to work us and make sure we were improving. It’s too bad.’’

Vogel, who has spent the past 22 seasons in the NBA as a video coordinator, assistant coach and head coach, was fired less than 24 hours after the Magic completed a highly disappointing 25-57 season. That came on the heels of a 29-53 first season in Orlando when the coach talked boldly about making the playoffs.

``It’s tough and I feel bad for Frank because he’s a great guy and he did his best … with the situation that he had here, having a new team last year and it didn’t work out for us on the court,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic’s longest-tenured player over six seasons. ``This year, too, our season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to. It’s a tough business for him, but (Vogel) did everything he could to help us be the best team that we can. But this is the way the business goes sometimes.

``It (stinks) for all of the assistants as well because you build relationships with all those guys, but it’s part of the business,’’ Vucevic continued. ``It’s nothing too new to me. It’s going to be my fifth coach in seven years, so I’m used to it.’’

Weltman and GM John Hammond, hired last May to construct a winner in Orlando, made the decision to fire Vogel after just two years on the job as head coach. Weltman and Hammond have a combined 60-plus years of NBA experience and storied histories of rebuilding downtrodden NBA teams into perennial winners, and now they are attempting to do the same in Orlando. Magic players Bismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross have known Weltman for several years from their time together in Toronto and both have faith that Weltman will soon help the Magic become a winning organization once again.

``I’m pretty confident (in Weltman),’’ Biyombo said. ``I can sit here and talk about him, but we’re all going to have to wait and see how it plays out. But one thing I know is he is a winner. He wants to win. This is probably one of his first years of losing, so I’m excited about this summer and I mostly look forward to what’s going to happen.’’

Added Ross, who missed 4½ months of this season because of a knee injury: ``I have faith in (Weltman), faith that he’s going to make everything right and that he’s going to do everything that he needs to do to get us where we need to be. Myself and the rest of the team have the faith that we’ll be on the right track. (Weltman) works hard, he doesn’t give up and he makes sure he goes the extra mile to bring whatever the team needs. He’s easy to talk to, he’s a good guy and he’s always worried about the players. Any time we’re going through anything we can go up and talk to him. He’s just a great figure for everybody in the organization.’’

Weltman and Hammond will be responsible for hiring Orlando’s next head coach, someone who must get the maximum out of Orlando’s veteran core, develop the young players in place and somehow get the franchise back in contention. Since 2012, the Magic have had four head coaches – Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles and Vogel – and none of them have been able to get Orlando back into the postseason. The Magic’s six-year drought of missing the playoffs is the longest in the franchise’s history.

Mario Hezonja, a third-year forward who will be a free agent this summer, raved about Vogel’s caring and upbeat personality. However, the native of Croatia feels the Magic need a different sort of quality in their next coach.

``Tough, a very tough coach,’’ Hezonja responded. ``Especially because we have a younger group than most teams. We have a couple of veterans, too, but we need a (coach) that is going to really ask us to be on top of our stuff on the court and off the court. (Hire a coach) who is not going to care about players’ feelings and be really strict with us. Whoever that is, I don’t know yet, but I’m sure that Jeff and John are going to take some (stock) in that because that’s what we really need.’’

Vucevic, who led the Magic in rebounding for a sixth straight season, agreed that the Magic need a coach who will hold the team more accountable for lapses in effort and focus. However, he said far too much of the blame was put on Vogel in that regard and, ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the players to perform.

``Some reason (Vogel’s message) didn’t work out on the court, but he really did all that he could as far as being consistent with teaching us every day, watching film and practicing to help us improve,’’ Vucevic said. ``Some reason it didn’t translate to the court always and we didn’t play to the level that we could. It happens sometimes in sports where things don’t work out the way you want them.

``(Holding players accountable) wasn’t necessarily the issue why it didn’t work out for us,’’ Vucevic said later. ``Frank did do a good job of trying to hold guys accountable and show us what we need to do. Sometimes, that’s all he can do and if we don’t respond as players that’s up to us. Did we always respond as players? Maybe not, but like I said earlier, Frank always tried to do what he could to make us better and hold us accountable.’’

Speculation throughout the NBA persists that as many as 10 teams could be changing head coaches and looking for new leadership this offseason. Milwaukee, Memphis and Phoenix fired their head coaches during the season, meaning they will join Orlando in looking for a replacement in the coming weeks and months. The New York Knicks wasted no time following Wednesday’s season finale, firing head coach Jeff Hornacek in the early-morning hours of Thursday.

The Magic will go into the May 15 NBA Draft Lottery with the fifth-best odds at landing the top overall pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. Ideally, the Magic would have a coach in place prior to the NBA Draft Lottery on May 15 and the NBA Draft Combine (May 16-20).

For years, Vogel has carried a reputation for being something of a guru in teaching defensive. However, getting the Magic to consistently play defense to the level needed was a mystery that haunted the team each of the past two seasons. This season, Orlando ranked 21stin the NBA in points allowed (108.2), 20thin field goal percentage allowed (46.8 percent), 14thin 3-point percentage allowed (36.2 percent) and 20thin overall defensive rating (107.7 points per 100 possessions). Those numbers were dramatically better over the final six weeks of the season – coinciding with the team’s trading of point guard Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns – but the improvement wasn’t enough to help Vogel save his job.

Orlando opened the season 6-2 and later 8-4, but it proceeded to go through two nine-game losing streaks and drop 19 of 21 games at one point in the heart of the season.

Injuries certainly didn’t help Vogel’s cause in trying to establish some continuity and consistency to a Magic team that has known nothing but upheaval and turnover much of the past six seasons. Orlando lost more than 220 player games to injuries this season alone with primary players such as Evan Fournier (25 games), Gordon (24 games), Vucevic (25 games), Ross (58 games), Jonathan Isaac (55 games), Jonathon Simmons (13 games) and D.J. Augustin (seven games) missing major blocks of time.

The Magic lost 14 of their final 18 games before winning Wednesday’s finale. Orlando beat the Washington Wizards 101-92 on Wednesday, allowing Vogel to say once again that he felt the team was on the right track. To the very end, Vogel talked of building on what the Magic did this season and taking it into the future. That future will now come with a different head coach after Vogel was fired on Thursday.

``I think the things that (Vogel) did best this season was despite all of the injuries that we had and all of the losing with our season, he still came into work every day, came in with a great attitude and motivated guys to get better,’’ said Augustin, a 10-year NBA veterans who was Orlando’s starter at point guard from Feb. 8 on. ``That’s hard to do with the situation that we were in this season.

``I think in the NBA you need accountability, especially when you have a young team,’’ Augustin said. ``We could have done a better job as players holding each other accountable. At the end of the day, we’re the ones out there playing and playing for each other. That’s the only thing we could have done better, myself included, holding each other accountable.’’

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