EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA head coaching opening tracker: Suns face competition for candidates

Apr 26, 2018, 7:48 PM | Updated: May 1, 2018, 9:57 am
Suns GM Ryan McDonough, Bucks GM Jon Horst and Knicks owner James Dolan have big coaching searches ...
Suns GM Ryan McDonough, Bucks GM Jon Horst and Knicks owner James Dolan have big coaching searches ahead of them. (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)
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Mike Budenholzer turned down the opportunity to be considered for the Phoenix Suns’ head coaching vacancy.

A wide net had already been cast to fill the position by Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, vice president of basketball operations James Jones and owner Robert Sarver.

Already, Phoenix has been linked to an array of candidates with impressive resumes. David Blatt, James Borrego, Steve Clifford, Vinny Del Negro, David Fizdale, Jason Kidd, Igor Kokoskov, Kevin McHale, Jay Triano and Frank Vogel have all had, at the very least, discussions with the Suns about the job opening. Triano, Kidd and Budenholzer are out of the running, while Kokoskov earned a second interview.

But there’s competition for their services.

The New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies are all searching for a head coach. The Atlanta Hawks joined them after parting ways with Budenholzer.

To keep up with the madness, here’s an overview of which jobs are open, why they are or are not attractive and who is hired.

Team Outgoing coach (interim) Incoming coach, previous job The lowdown
Atlanta Hawks Mike Budenholzer (-)

Atlanta’s roster is one of the worst in the league, stuck with overpaid role players like Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee and an average point guard in Dennis Schroder. Despite that, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry and John Collins are all solid young pieces and they have three first-round picks in this year’s draft with a whole lot of cap space.

The trouble is, they don’t have “the guy” like Phoenix does in Booker, New York does in Porzingis and even someone like Charlotte (Walker) or Memphis (Conley) has. They will need to get that with their potential top-4 pick. Nailing future top picks and free agent signings will be the key to their rebuild and that’s a lot of uncertainty for a head coaching candidate to deal with.

The Hawks are expected to speak with some notable NBA assistants, including Charlotte’s Stephen Silas and San Antonio’s James Borrego, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Charlotte Hornets Steve Clifford (-)

Clifford didn’t survive after a 36-46 season in which a middle-rung offensive and defensive team floundered as roster stagnation made one thing clear: outside of Kemba Walker, the talent just wasn’t very good. The team’s second-best player is either a (relatively) aged Dwight Howard or role-playing wing Nicolas Batum.

General manager Rich Cho was also replaced by former Lakers boss Mitch Kupchak, who will have to find ways to improve with a payroll that’s higher than the New York Knicks’ and with too many guaranteed deals over the next two years.

Spurs assistants Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka, along with Fizdale, are being targeted, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania reports Toronto G League coach Jerry Stackhouse is also in the mix.

Memphis Grizzlies David Fizdale (J.B. Bickerstaff) J.B. Bickerstaff

A healthy Marc Gasol and Mike Conley could make for a quick turnaround, but the situation isn’t looking very stable. They are aging and GM Chris Wallace is taking heat. The only saving grace? The Grizzlies get a top-2 lottery pick and know what to do with it. Bickerstaff gets his first full-time job, but it comes in a tough situation.

Milwaukee Bucks Jason Kidd (Joe Prunty)

The Bucks are far and away the best job available but might be put behind the eight-ball in a coaching search thanks to their near-upset of the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics. There’s a lot of talent and/or trade assets surrounding untouchables Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for tweaks, upgrades and changes to fit the identity of a new head coach.

New York Knicks Jeff Hornacek (-)

If we overlook that whomever takes this job will be working for owner James Dolan, it’s not so bad. Maybe? Kristaps Porzingis may miss all of the 2018-19 season with a serious knee injury, and the post-Phil Jackson front office has made some nice pickups in terms of role players. Maybe there’s hope? Oh. Until we remember that James Dolan is the owner.

New York has shown interest in Fizdale, Budenholzer, Blatt and Mike Brown, among others, per Wojnarowski.

Orlando Magic Frank Vogel (-)

Unlike in his Indiana days, the Magic didn’t provide Vogel with veteran talent. A respectable defensive team despite a young roster, Orlando, like other teams on this list, didn’t have the talent or shooting to score with the best of them. Around offensive-minded center Nikola Vucevic, restricted free agent Aaron Gordon, raw rookie Jonathan Isaac and combo guard Evan Fournier, there need to be upgrades — financially there’s flexibility until Gordon signs long-term this summer.

Stackhouse reportedly will meet with the Magic, who are led by former Raptors GM Jeff Weltman, Orlando’s president of basketball operations.

Phoenix Suns Earl Watson (Jay Triano)

Budenholzer pulling his name out of consideration for the job might indicate the perception of the Suns across the NBA. Is the front office going to be in place beyond 2020? Can it make enough moves just this summer to field a competitive team? Yes, Phoenix has all kinds of draft picks, cap space and a young star in Devin Booker, but the challenge is proving to candidates it knows what to do with those things this summer, before it can actually do said things.

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NBA head coaching opening tracker: Suns face competition for candidates