Within hours after the Phoenix Suns suffered an untimely end to their season for the second year in a row, despite acquiring one of the best to ever play in the NBA in a midseason deal aimed directly at winning a title, new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia fired the winningest coach in the league over the past three seasons in frustration.
And now, if all pieces line up perfectly, he might just fire the front office too.
Ishbia just acquired the Suns in February, and was rightly proud of the fact he’d acquired an immediate contender rather than a rebuilding project.
“First off, I love our team,” Ishbia said hours before closing the deal for Durant. “Give credit, by the way, (Suns general manager) James Jones is here and his leadership team. Like all these guys, they’ve done a heck of a job, right? They’ve done a heck of a job building an amazing team.”
The Suns team that Ishbia bought had led the league in wins (145), made the NBA Finals and won the second-most playoff games (21) in the last quarter-decade at the time he bought in. On top of that, the only core player over age 26 was Chris Paul.
“I feel like we can compete right now with exactly what we have,” Ishbia said at noon that day, about nine hours before consummating a franchise-changing deal. The Suns were in 4th place in the West at the time.
“With that being said, my belief system is about, ‘How do we focus on winning? Can we improve our chances of winning a championship?’”
Nine hours later, he made the boldest move of any owner at the NBA trade deadline in almost 40 years, by acquiring a current All-NBA first team forward in the middle of the season. Ishbia hoped that Durant would put the Suns over the top, and the gambling public certainly agreed with him.
By the next day, the Suns leapfrogged the rest of the West in money placed on them making the NBA Finals. That ‘favorite’ status lasted through Game 4 of the Suns-Nuggets second-round series until the magic disappeared and injuries got the best of them. Now their coach, Monty Williams, has been handed a $20+ million severance check to go away, and they’re stuck in limbo while they try to figure out the next move.
Except they don’t have a whole lot of time. Most of the team becomes free agents in less than six weeks, half the young core was traded for Durant and the others should be considered in trades to refresh the players around the stars.
What’s the next move?
Do you keep James Jones, President of Basketball Operations, in place to pick the next Suns coach and retool the roster again?
Or do you fire the front office too, and have the new head honcho hire a new coaching staff?
Interestingly enough, while everything in Sunsland has leaked like a sieve since the new ownership has taken over, almost a week has passed and
we have not heard a single peep on who the Suns will actually interview for the coaching position.
Update: There’s a leak, mere minutes after I post this story. Apparently, a Suns team with soon-to-be 35-year old Kevin Durant, impatient Devin Booker and shoot-for-the-moon owner are interested in... guys who have never been head coaches before. Woj reports that the Suns have gotten permission to speak to Sacramento’s Jordi Fernandez (with the Nuggets for years before that), Milwaukee’s Charles Lee and Memphis’ Darko Rajakovic (former Suns assistant under Monty Williams). I find it hard to believe they’d go the career-assistant routs, but what do I know.
I re-state: The Suns don’t have much time. They need the front office and the coaching staff in place quickly to put together the blueprint for a contender around the two stars. Everything should be on the table: smallball...bigball...three-happy...rim-happy...offense-oriented...defense-oriented, which is it going to be? Philosophy first, players next.
Maybe just maybe, they’re hoping to hit more home runs this summer.
First, we hear the Suns would love to have Tyronn Lue as their coach, despite Lue still being under contract with the Clippers for a few more seasons.
Howard Beck:— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) May 17, 2023
“There have been rumblings for awhile that [Ty Lue] might be getting impatient with the situation there [with Clippers]. It's been wearing on him that he never has his stars available.”
(via @HowardBeck, https://t.co/9y64G1sU8D) pic.twitter.com/efiMXfjf8V
Lue would definitely be the biggest coaching ‘get’ on the market this summer if he actually hits the market. Sounds like the Suns want to find out if that’s a possibility before settling on someone else.
But why stop there? Why not get the soon-to-be best free agent front office exec this summer too?
Golden State Warriors General Manager Bob Myers’ contract expires this summer. There’s been speculation for a year now that Myers and the Warriors might not agree on a contract extension, and with six weeks to go before he’s a free agent there does not appear to be any extension in place.
JUST IN: The Warriors & president of basketball ops Bob Myers are bracing for the likelihood that Myers could walk away from the franchise, league sources tell @ShamsCharania & @anthonyVslater.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) May 18, 2023
They've had no substantial contract extension talks in months.https://t.co/M7aXrDduEh
Now of course all this is hopes and dreams at the moment. Myers likely re-signs with the Warriors, and Lue likely stays in place as the Clippers coach.
There have been NO LEAKS that the Suns are interested in Myers. None.
I am simply throwing about ideas, considering Ishbia was willing to spend almost $2 billion in cash to buy the team, eat an extra $20 million in salaries and penalties as a result of the Durant trade, and now is paying his head coach more than $20 million to go away.
“We are very active,” Ishbia said hours before the Durant deal. “And the way we look at it is, ‘How do we improve our team?’ I’m not going to be sitting here counting the dollars.”
I wouldn’t put it past Ishbia to aggressively wheel and deal in an attempt to overspend on great talents like Lue and/or Myers.
“While we have a lot to be proud of this year,” Ishbia tweeted last Friday after the Suns lost to the Nuggets. “We did not reach the level of success all of us want, which is a championship. We won’t win a championship every season, but it will always be the goal.”
About 24 hours later, we learned head coach Monty Williams had been fired despite having more than three years and $20 million remaining on his contract, all guaranteed.
And back in February, he foretold his willingness to spend whatever it takes to put the best team out there.
“In my business, I’ve never focused on money,” Ishbia said. “Success is the key. Money just followed. We’re not sitting here focused on money. Nobody cares about money, we’re focused on winning, community impact, culture and fan experience. And guess what happens? A lot of success follows. Money follows success, not the other way around.”
The obstacle in Ishbia’s way is the owners in question here. Both the Clippers and Warriors have deeper-pocketed owners than Ishbia and are THE two most spendy owners in the league, paying close to half a billion dollars in player payroll this year between contracts and luxury tax penalties. I can’t imagine both owners, Joe Lacob and Steve Ballmer, scrimping on front office salaries given all the other investments they’ve made in their teams.
Yet, hope spring eternal. There’s a chance the Clippers and Warriors are interested in changing direction. The Clips once again came up short in the playoffs, losing to the Suns in the first round. The Warriors might change direction too, having maxed out their dynasty with a meek second-round exit and too many guys wanting too much money to keep the team together, especially considering the highly restricting new CBA starting in a few weeks. If Myers stays, he will be faced with the demolition job on a beloved team.
There’s a chance, however slim, that these guys become available. But it’s a really small chance.
If they’re looking for the most money in their next deals they might not have to look any further than Phoenix Arizona.
Worst case, the Suns keep the surely-coveted James Jones in place for another roster build around his stars and they sign a very good actually-available head coach to lead them. We just have no idea who that might be.