EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns change comes at bad time again; Williams, Vanterpool among targets
Suns general manager James Jones and senior president of basketball operations Jeff Bower had their decision-making power handed to them. Now the clock begins ticking for their own mistakes to potentially reveal themselves.
The Suns officially fired head coach Igor Kokoskov just more than an hour before the clock struck midnight on Monday. It wasn’t only odd timing that looked like an attempt to get buried locally with Kyler Murray leading the Cardinals’ NFL Draft headlines, and nationally, with the playoffs and a lawsuit filed against newly-hired Kings head coach Luke Walton lighting up the NBA news cycle.
It was baffling timing to make a move period, especially considering the candidates.
The biggest name among the early potential candidates would be Monty Williams, the Philadelphia 76ers assistant who is already expected to interview with the Los Angeles Lakers for a second time. The Athletic’s Shams Charania also reports that Phoenix will request permission to speak with Portland Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool, who like Williams is currently coaching in the playoffs.
Suns had planned to bring Kokoskov back for a second season, especially after the team's stronger play in late stages of the season. Kokoskov has been a well-respected tactician who becomes another victim of the constant turnover in Phoenix. https://t.co/OgHCTGCTH7
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 23, 2019
Here's a factor in the timing of Kokoskov's dismissal: The Suns are planning to target Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams, league sources tell ESPN. Lakers are planning a second interview with Williams soon, sources said.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 23, 2019
Williams has five years of head coaching experience with New Orleans. He went 173-221 (.439) from 2010-15, making the playoffs twice and losing in the first round both times.
While there, Williams worked under Bower and was hired to replace Bower, who filled in as head coach in 2009-10.
Prior, Williams was with the Blazers from 2005-10 as an assistant, where in 2007-08 he coached Jones.
Chasing after Williams is now a dangerous game for the Suns.
If they don’t land the big-name head coach — in this case one the team’s top executives know well — it will invoke memories of just an offseason ago, when meetings with Mike Budenholzer and David Fizdale made it clear Kokoskov was at least the third option on the board.
Williams refusing any offer to remain in Philadelphia, or worse, taking the Lakers job after their front office just saw its leader, Magic Johnson, quit in embarrassing fashion, would be an even bigger blow.
There are money concerns, too.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, so now y’all want to spend money.’ Monty Williams isn’t going to come cheap,” ESPN insider Amin Elhassan, a former Suns front office member, told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Monty Williams has been a head coach in this league, Monty Williams has been in the playoffs, he’s a wanted candidate on the market.”
Since Alvin Gentry was fired in 2011, the Suns have hired or promoted a number of first-timers to their head coaching job. Lindsey Hunter, Jeff Hornacek and Earl Watson had from less than a season to two years of NBA coaching experience when they were named to lead the Suns.
In talking with players the one thing was that they all liked Igor but never felt like he was in charge. The felt like Joe Prunty the assistant coach was more in charge than Igor.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) April 23, 2019
Funnily enough, it was Kokoskov back in 2013 who ended up leading many huddles under Hunter when Gentry was fired and assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner walked after being passed over for the interim job. Hunter, after all, earned a promotion after being hired as a player development coach that season.
Since Gentry’s firing, only interim coach Jay Triano, who led Phoenix all but three games of the 2017-18 season, had previously been a head coach in the league.
If the Suns do the expected, Vanterpool is a quality candidate but green in head coaching experience.
After a pro career from 1995-2007 mostly overseas, he was an assistant coach for Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow from 2007-12 before landing on Terry Stotts’ staff in Portland in 2012.
“David Vanterpool is one of the highest-regarded assistant coaches in this league, a lot of people think he’s going to to be a great head coach and he might be,” Elhassan told Doug & Wolf. “But guess what? First-time head coaches get first-time pay. Guess what? A year ago, we were saying the same thing about Igor Kokoskov, one of the most highly-regarded assistant coaches, a great developer of talent, a guy who showed he can be a head coach on an international level. We actually have more proof Igor’s a good head coach than we would for David Vanterpool.
“At the end of the day, it’s all the same. If you haven’t coached in this league, there’s kind of like a salary slot that you fall into, and that salary slot is low enough for the Suns to be like, after a year or two, ‘eh, I don’t know,’ and make a change.”
There’s little doubt the Suns haven’t allowed their coaches the opportunity to prove themselves capable with frequent roster turnover and impatience.
There’s a lot of reason to wonder why the team took nearly two weeks to come to the conclusion that Kokoskov and his staff wouldn’t be back after players cleaned out their lockers. Remember, Devin Booker jumped on a flight to Brooklyn after holding his last media scrum of the year. You’re telling me they didn’t know whether he and his teammates would vouch for Kokoskov by that point?
Now for no good reason, they’re behind the eight-ball in their coaching search.
If Jones and Bower strike out chasing Williams, Vanterpool or whomever else, it seems probable this will end with more damning confirmation that Phoenix’s approach, reputation and timing is as bad as it all seems.