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NY Times’ Stein: Hurdles remain if Suns want to hire Mike Budenholzer

Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer reacts during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
LISTEN: Marc Stein, New York Times NBA Reporter

Among the known candidates up for the Phoenix Suns’ head coaching position, Mike Budenholzer stands above the rest.

Problem is, he’s still the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Even though the Hawks gave Budenholzer permission to interview with the Suns and even though Budenholzer met with Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday, according to reports, hurdles remain for the team to land him.

There are financial problems, questions of compensation and also fit issues.

The New York Times’ Marc Stein joined Burns & Gambo on Thursday and discussed the complexity of what would need to happen for the Suns to land the Holbrook, Ariz., native.

Draft pick compensation

Just after Phoenix hired general manager Ryan McDonough away from the Boston Celtics in 2013, McDonough’s boss, Danny Ainge, dealt with a similar situation to what the Suns find themselves in if they indeed want to hire Budenholzer.

Boston negotiated a deal to let Doc Rivers out of his contract as head coach so he could take over head coaching and executive duties with the Los Angeles Clippers. The cost was a late, unprotected first-round pick that ended up being R.J. Hunter (25th overall)

“I think the Hawks will ask for a first-round pick, the Suns will say, ‘We’ll give you a second-round pick,’ and then it becomes, who wins the haggle?” Stein said. “It’s more likely to be a second-round pick if history is any guide.

“Obviously there will be some sort of negotiation there. To me, I think I’m almost more curious than the finances about it — that is almost trickier in this case.”

Financial commitment

Stein believes the most interesting problem for the Suns to end up hiring Budenholzer is with regard to his two years and $14 million that Atlanta reportedly owes him.

The twist to that?

Budenholzer signed that contract when he was more than head coach: He was also the top basketball executive in charge of molding the roster.

“How do you get him to scale that down? Who is going to take the hit? How high are the Suns willing to go in term of price?” Stein asked.

Playoff possibility

Budenholzer’s relationship with the Hawks isn’t completely warped. He suggested after the season he was committed to helping one of the worst teams in the NBA grow.

Yet, after taking Atlanta to 60 wins and a good deal of success early in his tenure with four playoffs appearances and a 213-197 regular season record, the 48-year-old coach might be looking to leave only for a winning situation.

Phoenix is ahead of the Hawks in that regard despite their record being a touch worse in 2017-18, but the fact remains that they are also not any closer to making the playoffs without a major overhaul.

“The thinking is that he’d rather coach a team that’s on a playoff trajectory, which does make his interest in the Suns somewhat curious because, obviously, the Suns are further along and have more pieces than the Hawks, but obviously exactly on the doorsteps of the playoffs. The fact that he would leave Atlanta, I don’t think that comes as a huge surprise.

“I would assume the coming home angle holds some appeal,” Stein added. “He’s a great coach Xs and Os-wise. He’s as highly-rated as just about everyone. Obviously getting him away from the Hawks — the Hawks are open to it, they granted the Suns permission. Obviously some hurdles would have to be cleared. He makes a lot of money in Atlanta, the Hawks would presumably want some level of draft compensation. There would be a lot that has to be agreed to to get him to the Suns.”

Of course, the Suns would have needed to convince Budenholzer that they will make immediate changes to field a competitive team next season.

So when it’s all said and done, is it possible Budenholzer stays put — or more painfully leave Atlanta for another situation?

“I don’t think it’s completely out of the realm for him to stay there,” Stein said. “Look, there are other jobs open. He’ll surely get interviews elsewhere if it doesn’t work out with the Suns. It’s not one of those deals where it’s so acrimonious where the Hawks and Budenholzer can’t look at each other anymore and they’re finished. It’s not at all like that.”

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