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On the possibilities of Nurse, Budenholzer, Young, and Lue as the next Phoenix Suns coach

According to Chris Haynes, the Phoenix Suns are want a big name as their head coach

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

As you know by now, new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia wasted no time in starting the purge to build the Suns in his vision. First, he acquired a new best player in Suns history. And now, he severed ties with the head coach who’d won Coach of the Year just last season and cobbled together the 4th best seed in the West despite myriad injuries and upheavals throughout the season.

Yet, it’s the playoff endings that did him in. Back-to-back embarrassing 30-point deficits at halftime on your home court in an elimination game — even one of those was record-setting and now there’s two — will get you fired no matter what else you’ve done.

Once is a weird coincidence. Twice is a pattern.

Oh there are other reasons to fire a coach — like rotation choices, performance, play calling and more — but those reasons are much more debatable. More squishy. The real undebatable fact is that two years in a row, despite a whole year dedicated to making sure that never happens again, it happened again. Another truth: Williams is 0-5 in elimination games as a head coach, including an 18-point loss at home to the Lakers in 2011 and an 11-point loss at home to the Warriors in 2015. Four of his five elimination-game losses were to higher seeds. Players have to play the games, but coaches are a lot more replaceable.

Now the Suns are looking for a new coach, and reportedly they are looking at other recently fired retreads like Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse.

With Devin Booker and Kevin Durant two of the five best players in the league (both made First-team All-NBA in 2021-22), the Suns want to get further than the second round of the playoffs.

So now the plan should be to hire a coach who has proven his ability to consistently get further in the playoffs than Monty Williams could do. Williams has one Finals appearance and two second-round appearances in the last three years.

Mike Budenholzer has 9 playoff runs on his resume, including the 2021 championship. Those 9 playoff runs includes 1 NBA Finals run and another pair of Conference Finals runs (one each with the Hawks and Bucks). He has a reputation as a defense-oriented coach who adjusted his offenses to fit his players, but more often than not was criticized for not getting further in the playoffs than he did.

Nick Nurse has 3 playoff runs on his resume, all with the Raptors, including the 2019 Championship. Those 3 playoff runs include the one Finals run, a second round appearance and a first round appearance.

Budenholzer, Williams and Nurse have some things in common — one Finals run, one Coach of the Year award, and one firing in the spring of 2023 for not getting enough out of his team. Nurse and Bud both lost in the first round of these playoffs, while Williams lost in the second round. Bud and Nurse top Williams in that they finished off their Finals run with a Championship, but otherwise have hardly shown more playoff coaching chops.

The Suns reportedly also have shown ‘interest’ in Tyronn Lue as their next head coach, but Lue is under long term contract with the Clippers still. He would have to be fired to become available, and that hasn’t happened yet. Could he be traded to the Suns? Sure, coaches have been traded before. Doc Rivers was once traded to the Clippers for a first round pick. But the Suns don’t have any tradable first round picks anymore, since the Durant trade, and really shouldn’t consider trading any players (Paul, Ayton, Shamet, Payne) for him because their team hardly has enough resources to fill out the roster as it is.

If somehow the Clippers are okay with letting Lue go, and he does have a better playoff resume than any of these other options. He made the Finals three straight years with the Cavaliers and LeBron James, winning once. He also made the Conference Finals with the Clippers in 2020.

Finally, the name of Suns lead assistant Kevin Young has been included in an interview list that’s sure to grow in the coming days.

Two names are already off the table. Former Celtics coach Ime Udoka has already been hired by the Houston Rockets last month, and former Jazz coach Quinn Snyder was already hired by the Atlanta Hawks three months ago.

Now let’s look in the other direction. Which teams might be interested in hiring Monty Williams to run their team? All of the Toronto Raptors (Nurse), Milwaukee Bucks (Budenholzer) and Detroit Pistons (Dwayne Casey) are looking for coaches right now. More coaches might be fired in the coming weeks as well.

But my guess is that Williams will take a year off to consider his next step. He appeared increasingly worn down by the pressure cooker in Phoenix and often waxed about the peacefulness of fishing and hunting on his land. He might just want to take a break before getting back into the coaching grind.

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