Phoenix Suns fire head coach Igor Kokoskov

Apr 22, 2019, 9:48 PM | Updated: 10:51 pm
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)...
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Phoenix Suns have fired first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov following a 19-63 season, his first year as head coach, the team made official Monday night.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi first reported the news.

The Suns made vice president of basketball operations James Jones the team’s general manager in early April.

Jones and his predecessor, GM Ryan McDonough, hired Kokoskov away from his assistant job with the Utah Jazz last May. McDonough was fired nine days before the start of the season.

Phoenix, which has not won more than 24 games in the past four seasons, is on to searching for its fifth head coach in the past five seasons.

Kokoskov was the 19th coach in franchise history and his replacement will become the team’s seventh this decade. His stint in Phoenix had its large share of failures, including a 17-game losing streak that set the franchise record.

Effort and defensive lapses highlighted Phoenix’s struggles before the All-Star break, and they didn’t end after it.

But the first signs of a crumbling foundation under the head coach came 11 games into the season, when Phoenix fell in overtime to the Boston Celtics after being instructed to foul with a three-point lead and 7.3 seconds left. With Marcus Morris’ back to the basket and well above the three-point arc, the Suns didn’t, the Celtics forced overtime and won.

Kokoskov said fatigue and the speed of the game might have led to the miscommunication.

In December, more concerning play followed injuries to leading scorers Devin Booker and T.J. Warren against the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. Phoenix became the first team in the shot-clock era (1954-55) to be held without double-digit scoring in the first quarters of consecutive games.

Against Portland, the Suns took first overall pick Deandre Ayton out of the starting lineup — Ayton and Kokoskov said the center was sick to his stomach — but the big man appeared in 27 minutes.

And most recently, in the third-to-last game of the year, Kokoskov was called for a perflexing technical with 23 seconds left for walking on the court to call a timeout. Problem is, the Pelicans had rebounded a free throw miss and had possession; the made technical free throw tied the game at 117-all, and overtime was required.

The Suns’ failures come at a time after team owner Robert Sarver told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo in early October that there would be a shift in the team’s direction after three straight seasons finishing with a top-5 pick.

“I think we’re at the end of a rebuild,” Sarver said the day he fired McDonough. “For me, the switch has flipped and it’s now time to start figuring out how to win.”

A former assistant of head coach Alvin Gentry with the Suns from 2008-13, Kokoskov replaced outgoing interim coach Jay Triano, who three games into the 2017-18 season took over for fired head coach Earl Watson. Prior to his time as head coach with the Suns, Kokoskov had no head coaching experience in the NBA.

After serving as an assistant with Serbia and Montenegro in 2004-05, Kokoskov was head coach of the Georgia national team from 2009-2015 and in 2016 led a Slovenian squad highlighted by former Sun Goran Dragic and Dallas Mavericks wing Luka Doncic.

He was then an assistant for the Detroit Pistons from 2003-08 under Larry Brown and then Flip Saunders; under Brown, the team won the 2004 NBA Finals.

Following Kokoskov’s Suns stint under Gentry — and for half a season helping interim coach Lindsey Hunter in 2013 — Kokoskov spent the 2013-14 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He joined the Orlando Magic staff in the middle of the 2014-15 season. Since 2015-16, Kokoskov has worked under Utah Jazz assistant Quin Snyder, who first hired Kokoskov at Missouri.

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