The Phoenix Suns are changing direction … again.
The team fired head coach Jeff Hornacek, who was in his third year as head coach. The Suns stumbled to a 14-35 record and are 2-19 in their last 21 games, including an ugly 91-78 loss to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night in which Phoenix was outscored 23-9 in the final quarter. The Suns actually led the Mavs heading into the final 12 minutes.
Reports surfaced late Monday that the team had chosen assistant Earl Watson to be the interim coach, but that does not guarantee he will earn the full time job.
General manager Ryan McDonough, should he get the opportunity, will be tasked with finding the next Suns’ head coach.
There are some interesting candidates available for the Suns moving forward …
The former Chicago Bulls head coach got the ax following the 2014-15 season, despite leading his team to a 255-139 record and five playoff appearances in five seasons. Thibs built his reputation as one of the best defensive minds in basketball, but his bickering with the Chicago front office finally led to his departure. He is currently working as an NBA analyst for ESPN.
Blatt led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in his first season and had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record when he was unceremoniously fired last month. Reports circulated out of Cleveland that Blatt was not respected by any of the veteran leadership on the roster. Veteran leadership isn’t something the Suns have a lot of, so Blatt might actually be able to coach the younger players in Phoenix.
The Golden State assistant head coach will be a hot commodity in the offseason after doing a great job leading the Warriors in head coach Steve Kerr’s absence while the latter was recovering from back surgery. Golden State compiled a 39-4 record under Walton’s watch. Granted, the defending World Champions’ roster is absolutely loaded and probably could have coached itself, but Walton will be coveted nonetheless.
Could one of the most popular coaches in Suns history come back for another stint? D’Antoni is back in the NBA (sort of) as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, and the team has shown progress with him on Brett Brown’s bench. Since D’Antoni joined the organization, the Sixers are 6-11. They were 1-30 prior to that.
Majerle coveted the Suns’ head coaching job in 2013 when he was an assistant coach under Alvin Gentry, who was fired. Majerle was passed over and the Suns handed the reins to Lindsey Hunter. That experiment ended disastrously. Since then, Majerle has taken over the basketball program at Grand Canyon University, and is achieving great success in building a Division I program. Suns fans would love to have “Thunder Dan” back in downtown Phoenix, but the possiblity of lingering resentment with management, his collegiate success and his commitment to Jerry Colangelo, an influential figure on GCU’s campus, make this possibility nothing more than a pipe dream.
Since we’re talking about pipe dreams that have ties to the organization, why not throw in the two-time MVP? Nash is currently a part-time consultant with Golden State, the general manager of the Canadian men’s national team and a legend in these parts. And he co-bought a Spanish soccer club with Suns owner Robert Sarver. Just planting the seed, that’s all.
Watson, despite being on the Suns’ bench for a little more than a month, could get the opportunity to coach the team in the interim. After spending 13 years in the NBA as a player, the 36-year-old was an assistant coach with the Austin Spurs of the D-League before joining the Suns organization last summer.
Gaines has been in and around the Suns and Talking Stick Resort Arena for a long time. He’s got head coaching experience and a league championship during his time with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. He became an assistant with the Suns after Gentry’s firing and served in player development for two seasons from 2013 to 2015 before getting back to the front of the bench this season.
Splashy hire, anyone? Hammon is the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history, currently in her second year serving under Jedi Master Gregg Popovich. The former WNBA star led the Spurs Summer League team to a championship in Las Vegas and will be considered for coaching openings in the very near future. A dysfunctional situation like the Suns’ might not be the best fit for a relative newcomer to the league.
McHale coached a short-handed Rockets team to the Western Conference Finals last season, but was let go after a 4-7 start in 2015-16 during which Houston was one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Houston rewarded McHale with a three-year contract extension in December of 2014, but went on to fire him despite a 193-130 record in four-plus seasons.
The Kentucky head coach is linked to every NBA opening these days, so why not mention him here? Despite incredible success in the college ranks (one national championship, six Final Four appearances), Calipari’s time in the NBA wasn’t successful. He guided the New Jersey Nets for two-plus seasons, going 72-112 from 1996 to 1999. The Nets made the playoffs in the 1997-98 season, but were swept in the first round by eventual champion Chicago. He is one of the biggest names in the sport and would draw a ton of attention to Phoenix, but it would cost a pretty penny to get him to the pros once again.
Bjorkgren has been on the fast track in the Suns organization for the past couple seasons. Bjorkgren had a 126-74 record in four seasons as a head coach in the D-League, including last season for the Suns’ affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. He was given a job in player development in Phoenix this season, and promoted to assistant coach when Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi were fired in late December.
Others to consider: Arizona head coach Sean Miller, Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell, Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka, former Thunder head coach Scott Brooks
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