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Center of the Sun: Igor Kokoskov has a big job ahead as the new head coach of the Phoenix Suns

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The Fantable and I weigh in with our opinions on the Igor Kokoskov hiring.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

One of the many questions facing the Suns this off-season has been answered. Igor Kokoskov is the new head coach.

It’s been reported that the Suns offered the job to both Mike Budenholzer and David Fizdale first but were turned down by then and the Suns had to “settle” for their third choice. That may be correct but to me there is something about Igor Kokoskov becoming the the Suns’ new head coach that just... feels right.

Budenholzer and Fizdale would probably seem to be the better choices from a logical perspective. Both have NBA head coaching experience, both were long-time assistants to other very good NBA head coaches (Greg Popovich and Eric Spoelstra), both are well know and respected in NBA circles and I had talked myself into believing that either of them would have been a good choice for the Suns’ next head coach.

But for some reason neither of them just ‘felt right’ to me.

Igor does.

Yes, it’s illogical and perhaps even irrational but I’m much happier with Igor Kokoskov as the Suns’ new head coach than I would have been with any of the other candidates for the job.

He may not have quite the resume that some of the others had but his is quite impressive. Winning Gold in EuroBasket 2017 as head coach of the Slovenian national team was something damn near magical and perhaps a little magic is what this Suns organization really needs. If you want something more concrete than magic to believe in, his 18 years of NBA coaching experience and the glowing accolades he has received by virtually everyone he has ever worked with should be a good start. And if you haven’t already done it, go listen to the Locked On Suns episode “Everything you need to know about Igor Kokoskov” that Evan Sidery and Brendon Kleen did with David Locke. David is not only a Utah Jazz announcer and Locked On NBA host but also a close friend of Igor who has some unique info and insights on the Suns’ new head coach and his coaching philosophy. If you listen to only one Suns podcast this year, this is the one you should listen to.

Many fans have in various ways often said that the recent Suns teams have lacked an identity. Well, Igor considers an identity a necessity. But that identity won’t be one that he tries to impose upon the team. His philosophy is to match the style to the personnel, not try to force the personnel into predetermined roles. What that will mean for the Suns next season we will just have to wait and see but I like that approach.

Can Igor single-handedly drag the Suns back into respectability? Can he mold the Suns into a winner? Can he get us back to the playoffs... and eventually back to the Finals?

I doubt that he can do all or even most of that in his first season as head coach and he’s certainly not going to be able to do it all on his own. A lot of that will depend on who the Suns get in the draft and the moves that Ryan McDonough makes this summer. Many fans have voiced a lack of faith in Ryan’s ability as a GM lately and the moves that he makes between now and the beginning of the 2018-19 season will be under intense scrutiny. Whatever those turn out to be, he will hopefully work together with Coach Kokoskov on them and this franchise will begin moving down the path back to respectability...

And winning.


Fantable Question of the Week

How do you feel about the Kokoskov hiring and were you surprised that the Suns hired anyone as soon as they did?

GuarGuar: I’m very pleased with the Kokoskov hiring. I didn’t believe in the “Triano is going to be hired 100%” narrative going around so I’m not surprised. After Budenholzer withdrew, Kokoskov was probably the best candidate available. He’s great with player development which was a major factor in the decision to hire him. It would not surprise me if most of our young core took a major leap next season. Everywhere Igor has gone players have improved and that’s why he is being praised around the league. Hopefully he can do wonders for the Dragan Bender/Marquese Chriss duo and elevate Devin Booker/Josh Jackson even more.

The biggest question I have is how much of a say will Igor have come draft night. If we do land a top 2 pick (which that in itself is a massive hurdle for us), it’s pretty clear Igor would prefer Doncic over Ayton. And while I love Doncic and he’s probably the right choice, I don’t want us to pick him because we are “forced” too. But if we do land a top 2 pick it feels a lot more likely that Luka Doncic will be a Phoenix Sun come late June.

Sun-Arc: My preferred order was Budenholzer, Igor, Messina, Clifford, Borrego, Fizdale as the search began. Prior to that I had brought up Stephen Silas a couple of times as someone they should target because he sounded like he might be a really good under-the-radar choice. But he wasn’t interviewed. And maybe wasn’t as coveted as I thought he might be. Before the interviews, as I looked over the list of around 12 suitors, I started thinking more and more that Igor would be a great choice for us.

Bud has proven to be a good coach. He might even be a great coach. Unfortunately, it sounds like he wanted some control over team decisions, which is something it seems Ryan doesn’t like giving up. How those talks ended are still a bit mysterious, and it wasn’t a good look for the Suns. And I think Fizdale’s situation was similar, also not a great look for us.

There are several reasons why I think Igor is a great choice. But I also think he was a necessary choice, in a somewhat negative way, because he likely won’t rock Ryan’s boat. This quote stood out to me...

”(Igor is) somewhat of a quiet guy. He likes being behind the scenes from the standpoint of he’s not looking for any glory or anything like that. I just think his relationship with players, it was just a matter of time before somebody was going to see that and hire him,” Gentry said. (Via www.arizonasports.com)

Tells me he was perfect for our situation - a good coach who develops young players and doesn’t need control over team decisions. Whether that combination is really what would be best for the team I really don’t know. But seeing how the Suns gave offers to Bud and Fiz, but were turned down (probably because they wanted power) also means Igor was not top two on Ryan’s list is interesting.

Having said all that, I like this choice over Fizdale and really everyone else that was available. Messina and Clifford seemed kind of old to be coaching our team - that young players may not be able to relate to them. Messina also seems a bit like a hot-head, which I don’t think would have played well with our young guys. Igor, in contrast, is younger and a ‘quiet guy’, as Gentry put it. A steady, calming coach seems right for us. Bud was that too.

Igor has demonstrated very good X’s & O’s, creativity on offense and defense. He’s got a great track record of working well with young players and developing guards/wings. He took a relatively ‘meh’ Slovenian team with Goran Dragic as its only true NBA player and coached them to a championship over teams with a lot more NBA talent, such as Spain and France. That is no small feat.

He also has ties here, which is always nice. The quotes from Majerle, Gentry, Goran, Gortat, and others is another good sign. But ultimately it will come down to winning - and we’ll have to wait and see how much difference Igor makes.

SDKyle: I would describe myself as cautiously optimistic about the Suns’ decision to hire Igor Kokoskov. It’s difficult to really second-guess the decision because I am not privy to the details of the discussions the Suns had with all the candidates, but Kokoskov seems to me to have been among the better candidates under serious consideration.

While he’s never been an NBA head coach, he has been a well-regarded assistant for many years. And he’s not totally unfamiliar with the head coaching role, having served in that role for multiple national teams in Europe. He appears from what I can tell and what I have read both on Brightside and elsewhere to be a strong proponent of ball movement to give multiple players potential good looks at the basket on each possession, something Suns fans have been practically begging for for years now.

On the flip side, though, a big chunk of the praise Kokoskov has received has been related to his player development acumen. I’ve seen him credited with “transforming” Ricky Rubio and other Utah players, as well as helping make Luka Doncic arguably the most highly-touted European prospect ever. While the ability to coach one-on-one is never a bad trait coach to have, it’s also true that as head coach Kokoskov doesn’t figure to have quite as much time to devote to those duties because he’ll be tasked with strategy on a macro level as well as various other aspects that NBA coaches have to worry about. I wouldn’t say I’m really “worried” about that so much as I’d say I’m “mindful” of it, though.

I was mildly surprised that the hiring happened as quickly as it did, mainly because I was beginning to think that the team was choosing to take its time and even wait until the playoffs concluded to make this decision. That said, it didn’t seem like other teams such as the Knicks were choosing to wait, and it certainly makes sense to get the guy you want if you know who he is. Why wait?

Even though Kokoskov was not my first choice (I had allowed myself to think we were on the edge of getting Budenholzer), it’s difficult for me to not be happy with this selection. He’s a far less head-scratching choice than Earl Watson, and has been hailed almost universally as perhaps the #1 NBA assistant ready to jump to a head coaching role. Here’s hoping he brings the Suns the transformative presence this franchise really needs.

SouthernSun: I’m perfectly happy with this hire. It’s probably about as good as the Suns could hope for. I think Clifford might have been a little safer, but this was a good hire nonetheless.

As you’ve undoubtedly read already, Igor was the Suns second choice at best, and probably third choice, behind Budenholzer and Fizdale.

Despite my disappointment that the Suns were unable to entice the coaches they wanted first, I’m optimistic about Igor.

Igor was the first non North American born assistant coach in the NBA. Now he’s the first non North American born head coach in the NBA. That’s an untapped resource, and Igor says that he plans on making use of his knowledge of non North American born talent (perhaps both coaches and players) that isn’t being put to use by teams in the NBA.

That sort of thing, along with his apparent player development skills and offensive scheme abilities, might mean the Suns struck gold and ended up getting the best man for the job, even though they didn’t get their first choice.

I’m eager to see what Igor can do, and I’m hoping that he does a great job and is around so long that when I write about him I don’t have to keep on using his first name for fear of messing up his last.

Alex Sylvester: There are a lot of positive thoughts that are associated with Igor Kokoskov becoming the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Initially when the process began, my sights were mainly set on on David Fizdale. The reasoning behind this? The Suns reputation amongst the rest of the league has dwindled to an all-time low for a historically proud franchise. Crazy concept, but this is exactly what happens when you deliberately tank multiple seasons and have an owner with a sketchy reputation. Hence, Fizdale was mainly a reputation guy, but he also was a tough HC and would have been a positive influence on our youth.

Igor then became my 2a/2b favorite option once Mike Budenholzer came to Phoenix for a two-day interview, but neither side could ultimately come to an agreement. When it’s all said and done, the fit with Kokoskov might be the best out of any HC candidate out there, and McD was able to lock up a promising candidate two weeks before the draft lottery is set. I love the offensive upside this team will have moving forward with a fantastic OOT coordinator and an overall basketball savant. The areas I worry about are his ability to connect personally with all types of NBA players, as well as his general lack of experience as a HC at the NBA level. Fortunately, the experience with Slovenia last summer has aided my fear of this.

Overall, I think it’s a great hire. Give him a few years to establish his system, and we could see some amazing results!

Many thanks again to our Fantable - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their input!


Season Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Brooklyn Nets - Game Highlights - October 31, 2017

Devin Booker Full Highlights vs Nets (2017.10.31) - 32 Pts, SICK Shooting!


Quotes of the Week

”We want the types of guys that can actually play in NBA games today and provide value and leadership and by example. You’ll see us make moves and be strategic to bring in the right guys, but we won’t bring in names for the sake of bringing in names.” - James Jones

”He’ll demand respect right away. His reputation precedes itself. If they don’t know who he is, they’ll find out real quick. Igor has just got this personality and an aura about him that if they’re going to test him, they’re going to find out they don’t want to test Igor. He’s about getting better and about winning.” - Dan Majerle on Igor Kokoskov


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Igor Kokoskov’s hiring offers clues to Suns’ plans this summer. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports

Former colleagues Gentry, Majerle laud Suns’ hire of Kokoskov. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

New coach Igor Kokoskov ‘thrilled’ to take on challenge with Suns. ESPN

Suns’ James Jones: Owner Robert Sarver doesn’t meddle in decisions. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Despite hiring a very good coach in Kokoskov, Suns have more work to do. Dan Bickley/Arizona Sports

Kokoskov Not Sexy Pick But May Be Right Fit For Suns. Greg Esposito/Sports 360 AZ

Suns GM lends look into process that led to Igor Kokoskov hire. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns: 5 biggest disappointments from 2017-18 NBA season. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit


Suns Rumor Mill

Since the news came out that Igor Kokoskov was hired as the Suns’ head coach, there are numerous rumors out in cyberspace that not only will the Suns draft Luka Doncic if they have the opportunity, but also that they might want to engineer a trade that brings former Sun Goran Dragic back to the Valley. The following two articles seem to say so but they really seem to me a stretch and wind up favoring Miami in any potential trade. They both spend time talking about the potential of Dragic, Doncic and Booker in the Suns’ starting lineup but both conveniently seem to forget that the Suns have this young player named Josh Jackson that would either have to come off the bench or play power forward if the Suns did this. For a lot of reasons, I think this is just a bad idea but it was kind of fun reading the two articles just to see what sort of ‘logic’ they used to push this as a good idea for the Suns. I’ve provided the links to the stories for their entertainment value, NOT as news.

Could the Suns acquire Goran Dragic back from the Heat? Hoops Hype

Should the Miami Heat trade Goran Dragic to the Phoenix Suns? All U Can Heat

And if you want a more realistic opinion on a possible Dragic/Suns reunion, you can try this article from the Palm Beach Post.

List of familiar faces on Phoenix Suns just got longer for Goran Dragic after coaching hire


This Week in Suns History

On May 11, 1992, Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor member Connie Hawkins was among nine individuals inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.


Suns History in Video


Suns Trivia

It was during the 1970 playoffs that Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn gave the Suns’ home, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the nickname “Madhouse on McDowell.”


Previewing the Weeks & Months Ahead

May 15 - NBA Draft Lottery

May 16-20 - NBA Draft Combine 2018 (Chicago)

June 11 - NBA Draft Early Entry Entrant Withdrawal Deadline (5 p.m. ET)

June 21 - 2018 NBA Draft

July 1 - NBA free agency officially begins (12:01 a.m. ET)

July 6-17 - 2018 NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was, “Who is your LEAST favorite choice to be the Suns’ next head coach?”

02% - Steve Clifford

06% - David Fizdale

07% - James Borrego

09% - Kevin McHale

06% - David Blatt

10% - Igor Kokoskov

04% - Frank Vogal

46% - Vinny Del Negro

05% - Nick Nurse

05% - Chris Finch

There were a total of 570 votes cast.

I found it interesting that our new head coach Igor Kokoskov actually finished second in last week’s poll. I think that many fans - myself included - would really like to hear the reasons why 10% of voters selected Igor as their least favorite choice. Hopefully, some of them will voice their reasons in the comments section.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Do you believe that hiring Igor Kokoskov is a sign that the Suns will draft Luka Doncic if they get the #1 pick in the draft?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Yes
    (230 votes)
  • 47%
    No
    (207 votes)
437 votes total Vote Now