DAN BICKLEY

Suns’ Mike Budenholzer has a chance to reach new heights in Phoenix

May 17, 2024, 5:08 PM

Mike Budenholzer has already notched his first victory as head coach of the Suns. He dominated a must-win press conference Friday at Footprint Center. It was a blowout victory that came without a hint of bravado or bluster.

To the contrary, Budenholzer was emotional, grateful, endearing, relatable and authentic. A man with his vibe right and his eyes wide open.

He literally bowed down before Al McCoy, the legendary broadcaster he listened to growing up in tiny Holbrook, Arizona. He referenced Double A (Alvan Adams), Sweet D (Walter Davis) and intimately described one of Paul Westphal’s favorite moves (“reverse pivot to a pump-fake step-through”).

He choked up when talking about family and his one-year hiatus from the NBA, a head coach who was fired from a Milwaukee franchise he had previously led to a championship, following a playoff series loss to Miami during which he lost his brother in a tragic automobile accident.

Budenholzer also addressed the fluffiest of questions in a manner that made you embrace even more. Namely, is it Bud-in-holzer? Or Bood-in-holzer?

The question made him strangely uncomfortable. With nervous laughter, he said that either pronunciation would suffice; that the matter was strangely complicated; and likely a sore subject in his family, many of whom were in attendance on Friday.

As one of seven children, as the son of a legendary basketball coach in a small town where cultures mesh just south of Navajo country, did a young Budenholzer feel the need to strike his own identity? During Friday’s press conference he addressed his 94-year-old father as the “Original Coach Bud.”

Either way, it comforts me that Budenholzer is the son of a successful head coach who still counsels him to “press and play fast.” It also means a lot that Budenholzer served as a longtime apprentice under Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the master of accountability, candor and tough love.

Even better, Budenholzer says he’s already spoken with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, describing the conversations as warm, respectful and full of good faith. Which suggests the Big Three is inspired by the new hire, a trio ready to commit in ways they never could in 2023-24.

Like Vogel, Budenholzer has one championship ring and a solid reputation. But I believe Budenholzer has a chance to be an infinitely better coach in Arizona. Because Budenholzer comes from better coaching timber. Because he understands the need for authority, leadership, conflict resolution and a real point guard in Phoenix. And because the Suns couldn’t find a candidate more emotionally invested in our NBA franchise and a traumatic quest now 56 years old.

Budenholzer is already one of us. That matters on Planet Orange.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Dan Bickley

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