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Phoenix Suns did wrong by their fans, franchise, players and coach in firing Igor Kokoskov

We all deserve better than this.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

By firing their fourth coach in four seasons, the Phoenix Suns are making a laughingstock of their once-proud franchise. After winning the fourth most games in league history through 47 seasons, the Suns have failed to win even 25 games in each of the last four seasons.

The fans deserve better than this.

The franchise legacy deserves better than this.

And the current roster definitely deserves better than this. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson will be on their third coach in six months. Josh Jackson will be learning his FOURTH playbook in only his third season in the league. Dragan Bender is on his fourth too. T.J. Warren and Devin Booker will be on their fifth. Even last year’s six rookies will be on their second coach already.

One of the least surprised people over the firing of Igor Kokoskov was Igor Kokoskov.

“The record is telling about my work last year,” Kokoskov said after capping a 19-63 season with a loss in Dallas. “And as a coach, you take all responsibility for that. ... It’s all about winning.”

In fact, Igor was on the chopping block mid-season, only staved off by a furious rally from his rarely-healthy rotation to win six of ten games and force the team to come out in support of Kokoskov finishing the season.

But once the season was done, no one above Igor promised anything to Igor.

The Phoenix Suns have been absolutely awful since Steve Nash left, sporting the NBA’s worst record since then (tied with Orlando).

Let’s check the tape since the start of the 2012-13 season:

  • Alvin Gentry (13-28; 32% win rate) — fired midseason, year five
  • Lindsey Hunter (12-29; 29% win rate) — interim, fired after partial season
  • Jeff Hornacek (101-112; 47% win rate) — fired midseason, year three
  • Earl Watson (33-85; 28% win rate) — fired three games into third season (one full season)
  • Jay Triano (21-58, 27% win rate) — interim, fired after partial season
  • Igor Kokoskov (19-63, 23% win rate) — fired after one full season

None of the five coaches since Gentry has had prior experience as a head coach, excepting Jay Triano’s interim stint in Toronto.

The outlier on the list, of course, is Jeff Hornacek. Horny came in 2nd in the Coach of the Year voting after the 2013-14 season in which the Suns — who’d entered the season expected to win about 18 games — blew the doors off expectations to go 48-34.

But Hornacek was the biggest victim of the front office embarrassment, or at least the harbinger of bad times to come. And he’s the only one of the last five who have lasted at least two full seasons. Heck, he’s the only one that’s made it two post-All-Star stretches.

I guess we should be thankful that Kokoskov was fired before next season started again, right?

“No excuses,” Kokoskov said two weeks ago.

Welp, I guess that’s true. Losing is losing.

Igor did what I think was a tremendous job this season despite the shortcomings he could avoid: his roster (for the most part), his lack of experience (for some part) and his accent/cadence (for a tiny part). Players regularly commented privately about having a hard time understanding him, which makes it really hard to be coached.

But almost every player improved, and all Igor needed was Tyler freaking Johnson to get some predictable offense and defense out of a starting lineup that usually relied on three rookies and 22-year old Devin Booker.

Maybe, just maybe, the Suns should hire a coach with a track record of success and NOT another first-time coach with no experience.

The Suns have a plan, right? Nah...

“No replacement [signed already],” says one Suns staffer, “Search begins immediately.”

Current experienced coaches out on the street are:

  • Dave Joerger (fired by Kings for same reason he was fired by Grizzlies: clashing with front office)
  • Tyronn Lue (fired by Cavs end of last year, now interviewing with the Lakers)
  • Monty Williams (left the Pelicans after 5 seasons after his wife died, now interviewing with the Lakers)
  • Stan Van Gundy (fired by Pistons end of last year)
  • Mark Jackson or Kenny Smith? (both personalities have wanted HC jobs)
  • Who else? HUBIE BROWN?!

It’s going to be tough for the Suns to get a good coach to accept their terms — which is zero control over anything except live in-game coaching.

Last summer, before hiring Igor, the Suns were publicly rejected by both Mike Budenholzer and David Fizdale because they did not like the makeup of the front office and owner. Who knows how many coaches privately declined even an initial interview.

How many will decline this time?

Now Igor is looking for work, though at least he’s got two more seasons of head coach salary coming to him while he looks around for the perfect place to land.

“Nobody is gonna feel sorry for you,” Kokoskov said. “It’s a brutal business. It’s about winning ... I’m aware of that.”

Good luck, Igor. You don’t need it because you’re supremely talented. But it never hurts to get some luck wished upon you.

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