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Suns’ Kokoskov on Doncic-Ayton draft debate: ‘Definitely, maybe’

Slovenia's coach Igor Kokoskov gives instructions to his players during their Eurobasket European Basketball Championship round of 16 match against Ukraine, in Istanbul, Saturday, Sept. 9. 2017. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Luka Doncic and Igor Kokoskov.

Upon the news that the Phoenix Suns would hire the Slovenian national team’s head coach as their own, it was assumed Kokoskov’s voice would carry weight in terms of whether Doncic, the Slovenian wunderkind, should be selected by the NBA team over other options like Deandre Ayton in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The Suns, who have the best odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery, would be lucky to have a choice between Doncic and Ayton, the two players considered by many as the best prospects in the draft class.

But Kokoskov, who was introduced as Phoenix’s coach on Monday, downplayed how much of a role he’ll have in such a theoretical discussion.

Even if Suns general manager Ryan McDonough asked him to choose between Doncic or Ayton, the new Suns head coach said he had to be careful.

“My answer is definitely, maybe,” Kokoskov said while visiting Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Obviously I have a history — I coach Luka and I can say more about him. Other guys, as a scout, as a executive, those guys are watching more college basketball. They know more than what I know (about Ayton).

“I’m not afraid to throw my opinion over there and to have an opinion. That’s my job,” he added. “I’ve got to be very cautious to have a strong opinion to demand. I’m not a guy who demands because if I don’t have a complete picture of the whole draft, it’s hard for me to give my voice and force for us to take Luka, even though he’s a diamond, he’s (a) really special kid. We have to compare Luka with other guys and see what’s best for the team.”

As an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz over the last four seasons, Kokoskov said he had more draft evaluation duties compared to the norm. He admitted he caught himself pushing hard for one player — in that case Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum — but not knowing enough about other options. He admitted that, the year prior, he missed on fellow Celtics forward Jaylen Brown.

“I learned a lesson,” Kokoskov said.

Beyond Kokoskov, the Suns appear set on moving into an era where collaboration is valued but responsibility ultimately comes down to job description.

Staying in lanes is coveted.

Asked Monday about working under owner Robert Sarver, who has fairly or not developed the reputation as a meddler into executive decision-making, Kokoskov again emphasized that he and the other top franchise leaders expect to stick to their respective job descriptions.

“I’m not familiar with (Sarver’s) reputation,” said Kokoskov, who worked for the Suns and under Sarver as an assistant from 2008-13. “I worked for Robert and worked under Alvin Gentry for five years. My memories about this organization, about this team, about this arena and a chemistry that we had during the games was unbelievable. It was something that was going to stay in my mind always in a super positive way.

“I know my job description. I know what I have to do this for team. That’s very clear to me so Robert is going to do his job. Ryan McDonough is going to do his job. I’m going to stay with the guys. Whatever talent we have, whatever players we have, I’m going to try to maximize.”


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