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Igor Kokoskov opens up to New York Times about challenges of coaching young Suns

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The competitive lifelong assistant is facing a tough test balancing winning and development this year in Phoenix.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Not all teams are blessed with coaching stability amidst a prolonged rebuild, but the important part is finding the right coach for the next competitive version of the roster. New coach Igor Kokoskov has looked the part of a patient, thoughtful tactician, pulling improvement out of the young Suns at a rapid pace after starting the year slow.

In an interview with the New York Times, Kokoskov discussed how important it is for the Suns to find their identity and find a winning rhythm. As the writer, Scott Cacciola, put it, Kokoskov thinks of these things in lists. Discussing how to develop Deandre Ayton, teach roles or create an internal coaching philosophy — all important things for the Suns coach to do — all come with a long explanation in list form.

“We’re looking for an identity,” Kokoskov told the NYT, “and someday, hopefully, it’s going to be a philosophy.”

In many ways, Kokoskov is a similar coach to last year’s interim Jay Triano in mentality and focus. He understands that building good habits is the key to growing a young team, but Kokoskov has a more innovative offensive mind and benefited this year from more talent on the roster than last year’s 21-win squad.

Yet others have come through Phoenix during the Suns’ rebuild with a better chance to win and failed. Jeff Hornacek pulled 48 wins out of nowhere in 2014 before failing to keep guys happy who were all at different spots in their career with different priorities. Following him was Earl Watson, a supposed player development guru and communicator who talked up so many guys on the roster but failed to turn them into good players in time to win.

“We can talk about Ayton, and we can talk about Booker — the young guys who are 20, 21 years old, and where they’re going to be in three years, five years,” Kokoskov told the Times. “But it’s one game at a time, one quarter at a time, and we’re trying to win every single game.”

But maybe Devin Booker said it best: “We’re looking for any answer we can get right now.”

The Suns are still searching for the right leader just as much as they are desperate to find great young players. Kokoskov has been quick to make changes and adapt to his talent, honest about the tough process ahead, and stuck to the right priorities developing Ayton and the other youngsters.

It may still be a year or two before progress really shows in the standings — and who knows what the means for Kokoskov’s job status — but Kokoskov’s philosophies, even if he says he doesn’t have one, shows up for the Suns more than any coach’s over the past half-decade.