When general manager Ryan McDonough finally stepped into the batting circle after Memphis kicked this off with a single by taking the interim tag off J.B. Bickerstaff, he was working the count to his advantage.
Unlike two summers ago where McDonough made a similar mistake to Memphis not interviewing a single candidate for the job, this time around he masterfully worked this search into one of the best scenarios unfolding.
It was up to a full 3-2 count now after relief pitcher Mike Budenholzer tried to up his value for Milwaukee’s opening, but he threw in a softball for McDonough to crush over the center field wall. Simply put, McDonough hit a huge home run with his hire of former Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov.
This process took longer than expected, but credit to McDonough and the rest of the Suns’ front office for sticking to it. In the end, it landed them Kokoskov on a 3-year deal, with details still unknown at this time, but somebody with a proven track of player development, success in building winners, and an innovative mind who’s more than eager to ace this job himself.
There is no other NBA assistant more ready to finally become a head coach than Kokoskov. Outside of working for names with plenty of pedigree in league circles — Alvin Gentry, Quin Snyder, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, and Mike Brown — Kokosov has already proven his head coaching success in international circumstances.
In September, Kokoskov guided the Slovenian national team led by Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic to an unprecedented gold medal run after they were projected to finish ninth. During their qualification run, they didn’t take a single loss either finishing up with a total record of 15-0 led by Kokoskov’s innovative offense that had their two primary ball handlers take turns at it.
Speaking of that pizazz on offense, Kokoskov’s EuroBasket run that I dove further into detail over shows a system that could be truly innovative. It is one predicated on ball movement (usually 3-6 at minimum per possession) that sets up everyone equally, especially its high-usage stars.
For people unfamiliar, it will remind many of three teams but with an even higher pace: Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Utah. That’s what makes this system so unique, because it could allow a pick your poison outcome almost every possession (more coming later this week on our Kokoskov film study), especially if it reaches its maximum horsepower with Doncic controlling the keys at point guard.
We could be easily looking at a situation this season where Doncic brings the ball up the court while simultaneous looks are being set up for Jackson and Booker. The defense, whichever way it goes, will predicate what Doncic would do and read them off.
Whether it’s a wide-open three for Booker off multiple screens or setting up Jackson to get a head of the steam towards the rim, it has amazingly endless possibilities when you include everyone else.
Also, buy back up that Dragan Bender stock if you haven’t already after hearing the news. Kokoskov will allow McDonough to see Bender at his full peak, allowing him to survey cutters from the perimeter as a 7-footer while also enacting (hopefully) more of the skillset he showed off at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Bender average 4 assists next season, because he could have three or four other primary options with him on the floor. For a player who loves setting others up, this sounds a lot like Bender’s utopia.
This should be the year we finally see how Bender looks for better or worse under Kokoskov’s guidance.
Thursday morning on 98.7 FM, McDonough spoke further about how Kokoskov’s connection to Doncic could push them in such a direction. However, McDonough’s answer tells you a lot after he said Igor would be fine with the best player available.
“With Igor, certainly that relationship and that experience helps,” McDonough said. “I don’t think any team will be more prepared in terms of evaluating Luka Doncic and knowing everything about him than we will.”
If that doesn’t scream “We will take Doncic at No. 1,” I don’t know what will. McDonough is right, though.
No other team will know how to deploy Doncic to his full capabilities like Kokoskov can. This also would make his transition over from Europe very smooth from all other possible outcomes in the 13 other lottery-bound teams.
It’s rare for their Plan B to the perfect fit for their team and situation, but Kokoskov is exactly that in spades. After quickly locking in on Igor after Budenholzer — McDonough told Doug & Wolf they had an hour phone call last week which led to an in-person meeting Monday — this is a move that should be applauded standing on your feet.
It was one hell of a recovery, that’s for sure.
McDonough also mentioned Kokoskov’s impressive run for Slovenia and called his offense very impressive. As I mentioned earlier, it sure is aesthetically pleasing and will immediately wow some fans in October.
Kokoskov has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to come back home. He’s returning to the same place where he became a citizen of the United States: Phoenix, Arizona.
Phoenix has a very special meaning to Igor and now he’s back to lead #TheTimeline to its highest possible summit. After watching Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash create magic as an young up-and-coming assistant on staff, Kokoskov is ready to do the same with Devin Booker.
It’s not only Booker, though, which makes an innovative mind like Kokoskov such a tantalizing candidate to right the ship in a correct direction. His brilliance has brought out the best of Goran Dragic, Ricky Rubio, and countless other guards who were left for dead before Igor worked his magic.
Igor is someone who’s entire coaching background is predicated on player development, success, and creativity. Three areas the Suns were prioritizing in their coaching search they found all rolled up into one with the 46-year-old Kokoskov.
Also, whether it matters or not, Kokoskov knows how to work with owner Robert Sarver through the best and worst of times. He had a front row seat for those times, and he’s back in the saddle this time around as the boss who will work hand-in-hand with Sarver, McDonough, and Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones to create the first ever championship roster in the Valley.
Phoenix only granted Kokoskov a 3-year deal, but a coach who has been chomping at the bit to show his worth seems ready to make a huge dent by his 2021 deadline.
The Phoenix Suns hit a gigantic 500-foot home run out of the park by hiring Igor Kokoskov as their 19th head coach in franchise history. And let me say you heard it here first as Kokoskov will be the one to lead Phoenix to it’s first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy sometime very soon.
21-61 wasn’t fun, but hiring Kokoskov is the first step to making plenty forget about it quickly as the Suns now have a vision and possible light at the end of their tunnel, if all things go to plan over the next three months.