The moment the Suns fired Igor Kokoskov, a clear line of thinking flooded out: This was a misplay when it came to value and timing, but could present an opportunity to pivot fully to a James Jones regime.
While it remains unclear how we can separate the hiring of Kokoskov from Jones’ purview considering he was second in command at the time, initial reports suggested Monty Williams was the top target this summer. Understanding the connection Williams created with his Pelicans players during his first head coaching gig as well as his relationship with new Vice President of Basketball Operations Jeff Bower, the whole thing looked reasonable at first glance -- if Robert Sarver could pull it off.
Now, Williams is the new Suns coach. They got it done. Considered in conjunction with some of the other changes general manager James has made to the training staff and analytics team, he has earned the benefit of patience from all of us as he clears a path forward in Phoenix.
It’s too early to speculate whether parting ways with Director of Basketball Analytics Jake Loos or Head Trainer Aaron Nelson is necessarily going to make the team better. No one can say. Both were with the franchise a long time. However, it certainly represents greater autonomy and aggressiveness on the part of the head executive than Phoenix has seen in a while.
Does this mean the storm clouds have parted? Probably not. This is a franchise that just two months ago was made to look foolish by an ESPN expose that somehow paired basketball and goat crap. It will take a while to overcome those stories, especially because they were nothing new. Sarver’s reputation is not evaporated by hiring Williams or letting Jones get down to work.
But if the biggest problem over the years was Sarver’s inability to get out of the way, then this has to be seen as a step in the right direction. Sarver could never himself find a backup plan for Nelson’s departure and seal the deal on the best coach on the market over the course of a week.
For that, Jones deserves credit. Think how long Sarver has relied on Lon Babby to advise him behind the scenes. Sarver has always been aware of his shortcomings. Previously, the problem was the person he hired to run things couldn’t get the job done and Sarver couldn’t help but meddle.
Jones’ vision appears to be minimizing Sarver’s role. In moving from Kokoksov to Williams, the Suns are indeed addressing the qualities they didn’t believe Kokoskov provided. He was not believed to be enough of a leader for the young players or (though this one is dubious) developmental technician.
Williams carries more respect than just about anyone in the NBA. He also brings five years of head coaching experience in addition to eight as an NBA player, seven as an assistant and one in the Spurs’ front office. He is a far cry from the newbies Phoenix has long preferred under Sarver.
That they snatched him from under a supposed championship contender’s nose only adds to the feeling that this hire is a step in the right direction. It appears Sarver, Jones and Bower did what was needed to lure someone to this distressed franchise.
The connections and championship pedigree that Sarver saw in Jones back in 2017 are seemingly coming to fruition. Again, that doesn’t guarantee any of it will lead to an improved on-court product. That’s something we’ll have to see to believe.
Think about how Ryan McDonough operated. He had full freedom to flip the entire roster each summer and wheel and deal in the trade market, but none of this big-picture stuff was in his sights. He either didn’t have a vision for how to improve these things or wasn’t granted autonomy to pull it off.
Change had to accompany Jones’ promotion. This team won 40 combined games the past two years. So as with firing Kokoskov, Jones’ decisions may seem muddled by the chaos of the past decade, but Jones deserves credit for doing things his way and starting the job quickly entering his first summer in charge.