Another offseason, another Phoenix Suns head coaching search is underway.
After a year with Igor Kokoskov at the helm, the Suns felt as if they had seen enough. A longtime NBA assistant and head coach of the Slovenian national team, Kokoskov had a rough go of it in Phoenix. The team limped to a 19-63 record, their worst in 50 years.
The blame cannot be placed entirely on Kokoskov, one could even argue he was doomed from the start. The Suns fired their then General Manager, Ryan McDonough, just days before the start of the regular season. They gifted Kokoskov one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, a roster that got only younger as the season went along, and one without a point guard to run his offense.
It’s almost as if he was set up to fail.
The ineptitude in Phoenix seems almost certain to continue. But, with James Jones now firmly entrenched as their General Manager, perhaps he can bring some semblance of stability to a franchise that has been anything but stable over the last six seasons.
That will start with the new head coach.
This will be the fifth coach in as many seasons in Phoenix. There are certainly a number of qualified candidates around the league, but who is best suited to lead the young Suns into the future?
Monty Williams has become quite popular over the past few weeks.
The Suns have already reached out to the Philadelphia 76ers for permission to interview him, and he appears to be one of their top targets. The same goes for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have already spoken with Williams twice since they agreed to part ways with former head coach Luke Walton.
Williams has past coaching experience — both as an assistant and head coach — and ties to both Jones and the Suns’ recently appointed Vice President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Bower; Williams served on the Portland Trail Blazers staff during Jones’ time with the team while Bower hired Williams to coach the New Orleans Pelicans back in 2010 (he led them to 46 wins in his first campaign). He has served as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder and now with the 76ers as well.
Like Kokoskov, Williams is a respected face around the NBA, but they may not have a real chance at him. The Lakers are almost certainly the more attractive of the two openings and, if they settle on Williams, the Suns’ pursuit of him may be all for naught.
Still, in the event that Los Angeles goes another way — they have reportedly held interviews with Ty Lue, Juwan Howard and Jason Kidd as well — Williams certainly would be a solid get as Phoenix, once again, tries to find their man.
Dave Joerger should really still have a job at this point.
The Sacramento Kings just finished their best season since arguably 2005. While they once again missed out on the postseason, they were in the thick of things until the very end as Joerger coached the young Kings to a 39-43 record and a ninth-place Western Conference finish.
Joerger and Vice President of Basketball Operations Vlade Divac didn’t always agree. So, when management extended Divac at the end of the season, Joerger wasn’t long for the job.
Now, Phoenix is almost a perfect mirror of what Sacramento was before this season — they are a young squad with a lot of talent, but they need someone to help them take the next step. So, why not hire the guy that helped the Kings to take that step? With Joerger behind them, the Kings’ young studs — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, etc. — all took major strides in their development. Better yet, Joerger had them playing with energy from start to finish, something the Suns sorely lacked throughout the season.
Should they miss out on their top target in Williams, Joerger would almost certainly be a welcomed consolation prize. The team desperately needs an infusion of energy into their staff and if he can approach even half of what he managed with Sacramento this season, it would be a win for Phoenix.
San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina has made his way around the NBA interview circuit over the last few years.
Messina was a finalist for both the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors vacancies last season and has interviewed with several other teams in recent years. A long-time assistant to Greg Popovich, Messina has decades of experience in the NBA under his belt, far more than any other potential option for the Suns.
If Phoenix is looking for some stability at the position, they could do far worse than Messina. Those years and years of experience could provide a calm, veteran-like presence in a very young locker room.
That being said, it may be difficult to pry Messina away from San Antonio. Popovich, in the last year of his current deal with the team, has thus far been noncommittal on his future. Should he retire come the end of the Spurs’ season, San Antonio may look to retain Messina as an insurance policy, should other potential candidates not be to their liking.
Currently an assistant on Brad Stevens’ Boston Celtics coaching staff, Jay Larranaga has worked his way up the NBA latter.
Larranaga had coached both overseas and in the G League before he earned a spot on Boston’s bench. He was in the running for multiple head coaching jobs as recently as last season as well; he interviewed with the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.
Larranaga is experienced and comes from coaching roots; his father, Jim, is the current head coach at the University of Miami. Not only that, but Larranaga is highly respected by his players and fellow staff members in Boston. The youngest of these five, his age could also give him a leg up, should the Suns look for someone that could connect with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.
Like Williams, David Vanterpool has heard his name mentioned quite a bit recently.
Both Phoenix and the Cleveland Cavaliers sought, and have since been given, permission to interview the Portland Trail Blazers lead assistant. He interviewed with the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic last season.
Vanterpool may not be the best candidate for the job — he has no prior experience as a head coach — but he could bring a fresh perspective to a franchise that desperately needs one. That being said, Vanterpool has served on multiple benches, both in the NBA and overseas and has done well in his time with the Trail Blazers, working extensively with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
These are not the only candidates for Phoenix, but they present some of the better options available to them at this moment. And, with another long offseason looming, they have to get their guy this time. If they find themselves back at square one this time next season, it would be anyone’s guess as to when they could climb out of the downward spiral they have found themselves in.