Remember a year ago when the Phoenix Suns were this close to getting a very good, experienced coach in Mike Budenholzer? Budenholzer, who even has ties to Arizona from growing up in Holbrook, would have been the first experienced coach hired by the Suns in over a decade.
Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has been meeting with Phoenix Suns management and ownership on Monday and Tuesday, and a sense is expected to emerge soon whether there is a pathway to Budenholzer becoming the Suns’ next head coach, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 18, 2018
Within days, Budenholzer withdrew from consideration for the Suns job. No offer had been made and the former Hawks coach didn’t even have another job lined up. Rumor had it that the meeting with Sarver tempered Budenholzer’s enthusiasm for the Suns, but it’s also true that he really really wanted the Bucks job anyway.
The Suns then turned to experienced coach No. 2 in David Fizdale. Fizdale had a shorter resume than Budenholzer, but was still in demand by multiple teams. Yet Fizdale rejected the Suns advances once he met with ownership. Like Budenholzer, he preferred to wait for the “two in the bush” rather than take the bird in hand.
Budenholzer and Fizdale eventually got the jobs they wanted, which was anywhere but Phoenix, and the Suns settled on letting yet another rookie coach twist in the wind for a year.
What will happen this time?
The Suns are just as focused on Monty Williams this summer as they were on Budenholzer and Fizdale a year ago.
And like last year, it’s gotten to the step where Williams meets with owner Robert Sarver and has to decide how badly he wants to come to the Valley.
Sources: Phoenix owner Robert Sarver met with Sixers assistant Monty Williams in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Williams remains Suns top target to hire as head coach, but no offer has been yet extended. Williams remains in talks for Lakers job, vying with Ty Lue.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 2, 2019
This is where it tends to fall apart for the Suns. They meet Sarver and realize just how challenging their job is going to be.
What other options does Williams have? He can wait for another offer, like the guys last summer did, or he can stay with the Sixers as an assistant.
Many signs point to the Lakers simply hiring Tyronn Lue in the coming days. He’s tight with LeBron and Klutch Sports and that’s probably all that matters.
Outside of the Lakers and Suns, other current openings are in Memphis, Cleveland and Chicago but Williams hasn’t been mentioned in any of those.
The Kings are exciting, but they already hired Luke Walton. Looks like the Spurs are keeping Gregg Popovich around for three more years, and the Thunder “expect” to keep Billy Donovan around another year despite the first round disaster. Williams has ties to both the Thunder and Spurs, but if they’re not looking for a new coach then Williams has to turn elsewhere.
It’s quite possible that another playoff-level coach gets fired in the coming days and weeks, though, and that’s why Williams would want to be patient. Could Philly fire Brett Brown? Williams is already an assistant there so the ascension to head coach would be easy.
The Wizards are currently looking for a new GM/front office, so it’s possible their new hire would want to replace the coach as their first act in office.
In the Suns favor, these thoughts from The New York Times’ Marc Stein appear stronger than anything that came out last summer with Budenholzer or Fizdale.
League sources say that the Suns' job will be Monty Williams' job if he wants it ... but Williams, as a coach in demand, has the rare ability to be choosy about where he wants to coach next— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 2, 2019
What’s so great about Monty Williams? Not a lot, but he’s got a pulse and a proven resume of being able to work the sidelines as an NBA head coach.
Williams is a well-respected people-person who can reach players and get them focused on the task at hand, despite dealing with a ton of injuries and bad roster construction.
He was successful as a rookie coach with a healthy mid-career rotation that included Chris Paul, but they didn’t get out of the first round. The 25-year old Paul had already soured on the franchise and demanded a trade soon thereafter. Everyone remember that disastrous summer?
After that, Williams was stuck with a rebuilding, oft-injured roster and didn’t get another winning season until year five, after which he was fired.
So, he’s not a diamond like Budenholzer. He’s more like Fizdale, if we’re making comparisons to last year’s search.
My desire here isn’t necessarily about Williams being better than every other experienced coach who’s available. It’s about, for once, knowing Sarver said and did things that endeared an experienced coach to the franchise rather than run him off.
But I’m not holding my breath. I believe there’s a 90% chance that Woj tweets in the next day or two that Williams “has pulled himself out of the running” for the Suns job, and that’s what makes me the angriest. Usually it’s always right after the Sarver-level interview that searches go south.
I’ve heard speculation from an NBA exec that Williams and Sarver are unlikely to see eye to eye, but that James Jones, Jeff Bower and a roster that includes Devin Booker might just be enough to tip the scales in the Suns favor.
Just finish the job this time, Sarver. Your GM and Senior VP of Basketball Operations want Williams. Close the deal with the experienced guy and, for once, let’s see what a real, experience NBA coach can do with this talented young roster.