EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns failed fired coach Igor Kokoskov like they continue to fail Phoenix
You shouldn’t have been surprised when the Phoenix Suns fired general manager Ryan McDonough nine days before the start of the season. The same goes for the present, as they regressed to a 19-63 record, still do not have a point guard and fired Igor Kokoskov on Monday.
The franchise has continued to show staggering levels of incompetence in the past five years and firing Kokoskov is no different. In fact, they reportedly did so after initially deciding they wanted Kokoskov to come back for a second season.
The discussion needs to start with how the Suns put Kokoskov in this position, rather than whether Kokoskov deserved to be fired or not.
Hey, remember the first sentence you read? Yeah, that’s still happening.
In what should be no surprise to anyone who can formulate a logical thought in their head, the Suns were never going to be able to hire a permanent general manager or replace the fired front office members in-season out of house.
That’s not how it works.
By firing McDonough in what was surely not a fully-thought-out act, they chopped their front office in half and then some for a full season. Oh, yeah, and they fired the guy who was at least the second-most responsible person for hiring Kokoskov in McDonough, and part of his staff that had an impact on the decision-making process as well.
Whatever plan McDonough had to rearrange the roster to aid Kokoskov, including adding someone capable of being a primary ball-handler, was now out the window. It was his plan, so now there was no plan.
With extreme roster turnover and a rotation heavily weighted toward playing its youth, the Suns’ veterans tasked with steering the woefully inexperienced ship were Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler.
If we use “lead by example” as a primary motivator, chop off two of those names right away. Anderson was clearly done once we saw him play and Chandler has been done since last season, not to mention his desires to leave Phoenix then.
Then there’s Ariza, who like Anderson, looked around two games in like he had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself into by signing with the Suns for the one-year payday and joined in on dogging it when he was supposed to “lead by example.”
Kokoskov had to give those guys minutes early in the season because he had to be sure his veterans weren’t a solution or else some form of this losing was coming. Ditto for Isaiah Canaan and the point guard situation.
The Suns wanted veterans with a pedigree who would play big minutes, but how Ariza played in those big minutes told us he wasn’t the man for the job.
How Kokoskov coached this season also told us he wasn’t, either.
Maybe Kokoskov was the right head coaching hire in terms of a name on the rise, but just not for this situation.
What the Suns need in this situation more than anything is a no-doubt, authoritative leader. Kokoskov never seemed to earn the respect of the locker room as the primary voice and his tentativeness throughout his time coaching reflected that. From miscommunication over fouling against Boston to wandering onto the court for a technical against New Orleans.
Now, that type of top dog being a necessity isn’t on Kokoskov.
His coaching style never synced up with what the Suns required. That’s on the Suns hiring the wrong guy.
Kokoskov’s battles as a first-year head coach always were working through that fact. He was slow on in-game adjustments, his situational awareness was improving and he was still navigating how to operate for other aspects of his job.
Take that all into consideration, however, and Kokoskov surrounded by young talent works for a lot of different organizations.
And you know, it did work to a relative degree in Phoenix. Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and De’Anthony Melton all improved considerably throughout the year and both Dragan Bender and Kelly Oubre Jr. played the best basketball of their careers under him.
We got glimpses, but nothing fully fleshed out was ever possible in this toxic mess.
How much has the culture infected Devin Booker?
His elite level of play to end the year and claim at exit interviews that the culture has been changed defy that notion. The warning signs, though, have flashed.
I was absolutely stunned to watch him lollygag around in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 13, looking his 10-point scoring night in the eye during a fourth quarter he usually remains aggressive as a scorer in and accepting it.
He grows more and more tired of losing, becoming more outspoken than ever this season about how unacceptable he finds it.
And for the time being, new general manager James Jones and the Suns have shown extreme patience and no sense of panic whatsoever. They seem to refuse the concept of mortgaging some future assets for short-term pieces to help Booker and the youngins cross a certain threshold before they can do so on their own.
That’s going to continue being a detriment to Booker’s chances of turning this around, playing the role of franchise savior and being happy with the long-term standing of his situation.
Now, is that on Kokoskov? Of course not! Did he take part in the landfill of the dump multiplying to scary quantities throughout Booker’s time as a Sun? Of course not!
I have no idea if Kokoskov can be a good NBA coach, nor should you. But we still don’t know if he’s a bad one, another nod to the Suns being a stumbling waste of potential opportunity.
Kokoskov never even came close to having this situation optimized for his own success. That went out the window on June 21 when the Suns passed on Luka Doncic and was never going to be the case as soon as the regular season started with Canaan at lead guard.
The next proposal isn’t to say, “if Kokoskov couldn’t do it, who else could!?” but, more so, can anyone even fix this?
Remember, back when the Suns were looking for their next head coach they reportedly met with Mike Budenholzer extensively and David Fizdale reportedly spurned the Suns for the Knicks. Kokoskov wasn’t even one of their first two choices.
The story of this rebuild was always going to be the ability and development of Booker, Ayton, Bridges and Josh Jackson already looking past the nightmare factory that was the 2016 NBA Draft.
That’s still the case, now more than ever. They proved that by firing their first-year head coach at the same time they promoted some sense of stability by putting Jones in charge and bringing in Jeff Bower under him.
Only a high degree of basketball talent will see the Suns rise from the depths of the gutter and get out of the wasteland they find themselves in.
A point guard wouldn’t hurt, too, ya know.