PHOENIX SUNS

Former colleagues Gentry, Majerle laud Suns’ hire of Kokoskov

May 4, 2018, 9:16 AM | Updated: 10:03 am
Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry, third from left, and assistants, from left, Igor Kokoskov, Bill Ca...
Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry, third from left, and assistants, from left, Igor Kokoskov, Bill Cartwright, and Dan Majerle against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game Friday, March 18, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)
(AP Photo/Paul Connors)
LISTEN: Alvin Gentry, former Suns head coach + current Pelicans head coach

Humble, commanding and innovative.

Former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry and his former assistant, Dan Majerle, agreed that those traits make former colleague Igor Kokoskov the perfect hire as the Suns’ new head coach.

And considering Gentry and Majerle’s background with the Phoenix franchise, that means a lot.

If you remember, Majerle resigned in 2013, after the team fired Gentry and to replace him promoted player development coach Lindsey Hunter to interim head coach. Then-general manager Lance Blanks chose Hunter over Gentry’s top assistants, including Majerle, who is now the Grand Canyon head coach.

So when Gentry, the current New Orleans Pelicans head coach, told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta on Thursday that he told Suns owner Robert Sarver that Phoenix had made a great hire in Kokoskov, it carried a bit of weight.

“(Igor is) somewhat of a quiet guy. He likes being behind the scenes from the standpoint of he’s not looking for any glory or anything like that. I just think his relationship with players, it was just a matter of time before somebody was going to see that and hire him,”  Gentry said.

“This is going to be one of the best hires they’ve ever made.”

Phoenix’s detailed, wide-spanning coaching search concluded Wednesday when it announced the hiring of Kokoskov, who is finishing this postseason as the Utah Jazz’s top assistant coach.

Gentry, Majerle and Kokoskov worked together from 2008-2013, and with the Suns, the assistant from Belgrade, Serbia, was credited with developing a young Goran Dragic, who went from Steve Nash’s backup to an All-NBA performer in two stints with Phoenix.

The Suns hope Kokoskov’s no-nonsense nature can help develop Devin Booker and the other young players on the roster.

Gentry and Majerle believe that those players will quickly earn the respect of Kokoskov — whether they know the quiet-mannered coach well or not.

“We became close friends right away, and the thing that struck me about Igor is his dedication and professionalism,” Majerle told Doug & Wolf earlier on Thursday. “He used to have a saying that I say all the time with my guys as we’d be on the road, and he’d always say when we land, ‘Let’s go smell the gym.’

“I just watched him work with Goran and other things and he was always pushing Goran positively and giving him things to work on and just always there. One of the things that you have to do with players is they have to know you care. And Igor cares, man,” Majerle added. “He doesn’t care about getting credit, he doesn’t care about anything. All he wanted to do is help these young guys get better, help the team get better, and players gravitate toward that, man.”

Perhaps it raises concerns that the Suns hired an assistant coach without the pedigree of a David Fizdale or Mike Budenholzer, two candidates Phoenix showed interest in during their hiring process.

Budenholzer pulled his name out of the running; Suns GM Ryan McDonough and Sarver both said on 98.7 FM on Thursday that both parties didn’t see a perfect fit. Fizdale reportedly will take the New York Knicks’ head coaching opening after spurning an offer from the Suns.

Hiring one of those two candidates would have led outsiders to assume the Suns could compete better in the free agent market due to their respective reputations.

However, Majerle might disagree with that notion.

“He’ll demand respect right away,” Majerle said of Kokoskov. “His reputation precedes itself. If they don’t know who he is, they’ll find out real quick. Igor has just got this personality and an aura about him that if they’re going to test him, they’re going to find out they don’t want to test Igor. He’s about getting better and about winning.”

“I’m saying, if you’re going to have a problem playing for Igor, you shouldn’t be playing,” the Suns Ring of Honor member added. “If he’s got to motivate veterans, he’ll get them out of there and they should be gone.”

Progressive offense

Sarver compared the quiet-mannered Kokoskov to fellow “savants” like Boston’s Brad Stevens, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Utah’s Quin Snyder. The owner added that Kokoskov was the only candidate who in interviews mentioned that player development plans are dependent on the system the team is running.

Vice president of basketball operations James Jones repeatedly used the word “progressive” to describe the Suns’ new coach.

“A lot of his offensive things are more of a continuity thing where if this doesn’t work, then you go to this, then you go to this, then you go to this,” Gentry said. “He did a lot of things there when we were there of just tweaking what I liked to do and adding a little part here or there.”

QUOTABLE

Majerle on Kokoskov’s familiarity with the Suns and ownership: “Not only him knowing the ownership there and what’s expected, but them knowing him. Robert knows Igor, he’s been there so I think it works both ways. Robert understands what he’s getting with Igor. Igor is going to do it his way, it’s proven to work — like I said, both ways knew what they were getting into.”

Gentry on how Kokoskov can help Booker: “I think he’ll take him and he’ll say, ‘you have to add something to your game this summer. Let’s work on adding this to your game this summer.’ And he’ll spend a lot of time — and he’ll personally spend a lot of time with him — developing him and saying, ‘let’s add a post-up game to your game this summer.'”

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