Changes have to come at the top first, then trickle down into the team on the court. A chaotic front office cannot expect their team to perform to the best of their abilities.
Not Robert Sarver
Only the owner can change the owner, unless he’s a criminal or an extreme racist or both. And Robert Sarver is none of those things. Sarver himself is the only one who can decide to change the ownership of the Phoenix Suns, and he does not appear at all interested in making any move in that direction.
Why would he? Do you think he — or any sane person — cares what random fans think of him personally?
He knows that as soon as the Suns start winning games again, the fans will return to the arena and spend all their free money supporting the team.
And he knows that he’s losing less money than I’m losing dark strands of hair on my head throughout these nine seasons of losing.
And he knows the team that he and his partners bought for $400 million 15 years ago would now likely sell for about $2 billion, doubling in value more than twice over. It’s not going to stop appreciating, so why cash out now?
So, just accept that Robert Sarver will not put himself in a position to be forced to sell, and there’s no reason he should want to.
He’s here to stay.
Bower and Jones
Not exactly sure what title James Jones will have, but he will almost certainly stay in the organization in a position much like the one he’s had since October. He likely be the permanent General Manager going forward, with new front office man Jeff Bower as the Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations.
Going into last year’s training camp, it was Jones as the VP of Basketball Operations who was the voice in the ear of GM Ryan McDonough.
Which of Jones or Bower will be the front man for the Suns? The one that other teams call about trade offers, that agents call about contract negotiations?
The Suns cannot afford to just add Bower as another voice in the crowded room, or teams and agents will continue to throw up their hands and just call Sarver directly.
I can’t see the Suns going forward with a permanent “Co-GM” title for Bukstein and Jones, especially with Bower aboard. The Suns are already confusing to other teams’ front offices and player agents, so it’s time to take that wonder out of it.
You have to think that one of Jones or Bower will be the front man going forward for other teams to call about trades, with the other being the right hand man.
So where does that leave the nice, smart, quiet, unassuming (and long time Bright Side fan) Trevor Bukstein, who has outlasted multiple front office changes and grown into increasingly important roles?
Bukstein doesn’t have the public personality to be a front man, but has this past year as Co-GM and larger participant in trade negotiations elevated Bukstein’s self-worth too high to allow him to accept a demotion back down to Assistant GM position he’d held for five years?
He first joined the Suns in 2010 as Director of Basketball Administration under PBO Lon Babby and rose to Assistant GM under Ryan McDonough in 2013.
Between Bukstein and Jones, the small in-season moves the Suns made were successful: players couldn’t stop gushing about how awesome Jamal Crawford is in the locker room, and Kelly Oubre and Tyler Johnson were great upgrades from Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson. Who knows how much influence Jones/Bukstein had on the Ariza/Anderson deals in the first place, but they pivoted very well during the season.
The Suns would be well-served to keep Bukstein in the fold in a manner that Bukstein continues to feel appreciated. Don’t just offer him a demotion or out, Robert. Please.
I know that coach Igor Kokoskov is a polarizing figure to fans, and possibly even to the players as well. It can’t go unnoticed that Kokoskov was mentioned by five non-Suns players out of just over 100 polled as a head coach they would not want to play for (players could not vote for their own coach). Why? Maybe because the dysfunction at the top is stinking him up. Maybe it’s the heavy eastern European accent combined with a low register. Maybe it’s something else. I don’t know.
“I salute him,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “He’s gotten better throughout the year. When I first got to the team, it was really hard to understand him. Me and him started talking, got to know each other a little bit. He’s a very transparent individual. He’ll let you know what he’s feeling, let you know what he sees.
“You need that out of a coach, somebody who’s going to hold everybody accountable, you know, keep everybody on the same page.”
Oubre was putting up career-best numbers and had emerged as the second-best player on the team during their high-water mark before he hurt his thumb and needed surgery. Oubre has been open about wanting to come back next year.
“I really liked Igor,” Tyler Johnson said. “There’s a lot of variables that go into the success of the team, but I thought he did an excellent job of really taking the time to get guys to understand their roles and to be a professional.”
Johnson was like Oubre, starting slowly with the team after being acquired, then picking it up when the group gelled into that winning stretch, until his knee started acting up. Johnson was Igor’s point guard, so he had the most responsibility to know what Igor wanted. Luckily, Johnson could get advice from Igor’s famous protege: Miami teammate Goran Dragic.
Kokoskov is a great instructor and skill-builder in between the games, but is still learning how to manage the game when emotions get hot and decision-making is required every second. He took heat for his rotations, his substitution patterns and his refusal to feature Ayton and Bridges more heavily in the offense.
Yet Ayton and Bridges got better throughout the season, and some of that is because of Igor’s skill building staff and some because of Igor’s resolve as a coach to avoid falling prey to overusing his rookies and ultimately hurting their development in the long run.
Igor said last summer that he would build Ayton from the ground up as a center, because that’s where Ayton would excel in the NBA with his rare combination of athleticism, size and strength. Igor kept Ayton in a small box of production and what came out was a rookie who put one of the most productive and efficient rookie seasons for a big man in league history. We can easily see Ayton putting up 20/12 stats next year.
Igor said in the fall that he didn’t want to overuse Bridges or expect too much from him as a rookie so kept Bridges out of the spotlight. The quiet, unassuming Bridges who struggled to make his threes could have crumbled in too big a role on a terrible team, but Igor successfully kept him out of that danger zone. By spring, Bridges was not only their best defender, he was top three on the team in minutes per game and had developed sneaky-good passing skills. All while still staying under the radar where he was most comfortable. Now, we can easily see Bridges being even better in the pros than he was at Villanova, with multi-level scoring, defending and passing all in one package. Anyone still miss that 2021 Miami pick?
Igor also protected Devin Booker from his worst nightmare and a damaged career by refusing make him the undisputed point guard. Against what seemed like impossible pressure from all sides, igor force-fed rookie point guards Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton into lineups with Booker at the expense of the team’s performance just so Booker wouldn’t have to handle the ball too much. His fear’s were proven right when Booker suffered from myriad injuries due to the heavy load he had to bear anyway, all of which magically went away when Tyler Johnson and Kelly Oubre emerged to take pressure off. Now Booker finishes the year with one of the most efficient seasons in history for his age and position, and can’t wait for next year to begin.
I could keep going.
But the bottom line is that he didn’t win any games because the roster was deficient, not because of his coaching chops. The moment he got a functional rotation that included Johnson, Booker, Oubre and Ayton, despite having to rotate in undersized Josh Jackson and Bridges at the power forward position, he still found a way to win 6 of 10 games including a pair against the conference leaders.
But 19-63 is 19-63 no matter what lipstick you put on that pig.
“Personally, I’m very, very not very pleased and satisfied with our season,” Kokoskov said Wednesday. “I have a high expectation for myself. First time when I met with (reporters), I mentioned this is not developmental league, this is professional basketball league.
“It’s all about winning or losing games. (There is a) subjective opinion of how I feel about a season, but I see my work as the record of the team. That’s fact. That’s not a subjective opinion.”
Igor was a rookie coach this year, but other rookie coaches on rebuilding teams fared better in the win column.
In Atlanta, rookie coach Lloyd Pierce took a similarly young team to 29 fun wins. J.B. Bickerstaff coached Memphis to 33 wins. In recent years, you’ve got Luke Walton, Kenny Atkinson and Mike Malone doing a bit better as rookie coaches on rebuilding teams (20-28 wins). Even Earl Watson won 24 games in his only full year as a coach.
Kokoskov could be fired in the coming days, or he could be back for another season or two. Either way, he’s getting paid for two more years by Robert Sarver’s franchise whether he coaches or not.
But do you realize Booker would then have to work with his fifth coach in five seasons? Josh Jackson would be on his fourth coach in three seasons?! That’s ridiculous. The Suns would be starting all over once again. New plays, new terminology, new habits. And remember there’s only a five-day training camp before the games start coming one after the other. It’s tough to install a brand new system with super-young players.
Other coaches around the league are big fans of Kokoskov, including his former employers Alvin Gentry and Quin Snyder. Analysts are fans of his offensive schemes when the players execute.
Igor should get a second chance, this time with a better roster around his best players. Give him a damn point guard and a functional power forward and let’s see what happens.
Everything is viewed in a better light when you win more games.