The Phoenix Suns are circling back to a familiar place — looking for a new head coach.
It could potentially be their sixth in a five-season span, a sign things haven’t been going well at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
It’s of the utmost importance general manager Ryan McDonough (if he’s the one in charge of the search) gets this right. A bunch of names floated by ESPN’s Marc Stein with previous links to the organization have the fingerprints of Robert Sarver on them. It would be surprising if McDonough went in the direction of Mike D’Antoni, Dan Majerle or Steve Nash to guide the franchise.
The theme of this entire season has linked back to the past of the team. Yes, that’s a marketing ploy, but there’s no way the owner isn’t in the loop on how his product is going to be branded. Hiring one of those candidates would continue the pattern of trying to get back to the good old days.
Stein also named Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, which is a reasonable direction.
I should add in, I don’t buy the Jay Wright rumor at all. The head coach has already publicly discussed his desire to stay at Villanova, where he just coached the Wildcats to their second national title.
Two things to note with the list of potential candidates:
1. I have no inside information — these are just some names I think make sense.
2. There are definitely capable assistant coaches across the league that could and should be involved in this process, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on four candidates with some previous NBA head coaching experience.
Thibodeau is the grand prize of this summer’s coaching carousel. I’d guess that he ends up being out of the Suns’ price range, but there is a link between the two. Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Celtics from 2007-2010 while McDonough worked in Boston’s front office.
The last time the Suns ranked in the top 10 of defensive rating by the Basketball Reference statistic was during the 1999-2000 season. It’s long overdue for the Suns to establish them on that side of the ball and Thibodeau is a defensive genius. He’d bring along a desperately needed change of culture.
Brooks compiled a 338-207 record (.620 winning percentage) during seven seasons with the Thunder. In his six full seasons with Oklahoma City they never finished lower than 16th in defensive rating and were top-10 three times.
What makes him most attractive to the Suns is his track record developing young talent. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook became two of the league’s best players under his watch. While Durant’s talent was obvious coming out of the University of Texas, Westbrook wasn’t a can’t-miss prospect coming out of UCLA. He was considered a good defensive player, but developed into a devastating offensive force under Brooks, who also helped James Harden, Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams become quality to high-level NBA players.
Maybe Brooks isn’t the guy to get the Suns to an NBA Championship due to his stubbornness with rotations and offensive schematic shortcomings, but he can at worst start the process and get them them headed in the right direction. And who knows, maybe he’s reflected back at what he did wrong in OKC and will improve in those areas.
Blatt was only given 123 games at his post with the Cavaliers. In his one full season, he led them to the NBA Finals where his slow-down style helped Cleveland surprisingly take the Warriors to six games. It’s a strategy Gregg Popovich has taken and used himself to try and beat Golden State this season. Blatt seems to be very adept coaching both offense and defense.
There are question marks surrounding Blatt’s ability to deal with players and the media and there are some basic strategic issues that could be potential drawbacks.
The Status Quo
To judge Watson by his 8-24 record as Phoenix’s interim coach isn’t fair. The team has been banged up and hasn’t been in a position to succeed. Watson’s biggest positive is the respect he’s garnered from the team. They’ve clearly played hard under his watch.
The negative is Watson, only 36, is still learning. He’s played a ton of lineups that don’t make sense and has made some strange adjustments offensively and defensively.
Maybe in time, Watson can put it all together and become a good head coach, but it would be a big risk for the Suns to take at this time.