After continued silence out of the Suns’ front office over the past week, likely keeping it even close to the vest after the Mike Budenholzer fiasco, we finally have an update on their coaching search via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Suns coaching search is gathering momentum again: Spurs assistant James Borrego interviewed in Phoenix on Thursday, and former Charlotte coach Steve Clifford met with franchise officials there today, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 27, 2018
Outside of interim head coach Jay Triano and Budenholzer, James Borrego and Steve Clifford are the only other ones known to have face-to-face interaction with upper management.
Both of these candidates fit the mold of instilling a defensive culture, one area they are in desperate need of an overhaul after finishing as the second team in NBA history at the bottom of both offensive and defensive ratings. The only other one to pull that feat off was the first season of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
Borrego has been an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio on two different occasions (2003-10, 2015-). After following fellow assistant at the time Monty Williams to New Orleans to be his lead assistant, Borrego then bounced over to Orlando after he was fired after three seasons.
In Orlando, Borrego was tasked as the interim coach after Jacque Vaughn was fired and he immediately turned them into a competent team on defense. In a two-month span, Borrego’s version of this roster rose from near the bottom all the way into the top half. What’s interesting is that Borrego actually was helped out by current Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov from Feb-April, joining once Vaughn was shown the door.
Another area in Borrego’s cap that might intrigue Phoenix is his age. Similarly to Brad Stevens when he was guiding Butler to consecutive Final Four appearances, Borrego is a year younger at 40. Right then and there, Borrego would become the youngest head coach in the NBA after being skipped over the past few seasons in final interviews like Houston (Mike D’Antoni) and Memphis (David Fizdale).
Could this be his chance of running his own team? It’s certainly possible, but we should also touch on Clifford as well. Clifford is a cut off the Stan Van Gundy coaching tree, which included one year with D’Antoni in Los Angeles before being hired by Charlotte in 2013.
Over his five seasons with the Hornets, Clifford compiled a record of 196-214 (47.8 winning percentage) while leading them to two separate playoff births. Even if those appearances were quick, he proved he can lead a subpar team lead by supreme Xs-and-Os. Around 3-4 years ago, Clifford had the Hornets humming in terms of two-way efficiency around Kemba Walker.
Outside of Borrego and Clifford, who else has the upper hand in making the second round of interviews? Are they waiting on Kokoskov to finish up this series or will they move quickly on one of these two?
With them likely sticking to their timeline of more face-to-face interviews next week, I would guess at this point they have a new coach hired by next weekend.