The head coaching vacancy for the Phoenix Suns is a desired opening for anyone who looks to join an organization with a roster with championship aspirations. While losing Monty Williams has signified the end of an era and Suns basketball, it’s time to move on and begin to explore what other options exist.
And there sure are plenty of options! Big names, small names, names we know well and names we’ve never heard of. I believe Dave King might even have an interview!
We know the reognizable names that have been connected to the Suns early on. Mike Budenholzer. Nick Nurse. Tyronn Lue. All our coaches with prior NBA experience, and having success along the way.
Adrian Wojnarowski has informed us of other candidates that Phoenix is exploring as they look to fill their head coach position.
ESPN Sources: The Suns have started to gather permission on several assistants for head coaching interviews, including Sacramento’s Jordi Fernandez, Milwaukee’s Charles Lee and Memphis’ Darko Rajakovic.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 18, 2023
Phoenix is doing their due diligence by interviewing numerous NBA assistants. Whether you agree or disagree with the possibility of a rookie head coach assuming the vacancy, it does nothing but benefit the team to explore these options.
Who are these dudes? Let’s get to know this newest round of names who have been linked to Phoenix.
Fernandez, who currently is the associate head coach with the resurgent Sacramento Kings, was initially hired in 2009 by the Cleveland Cavaliers as their player development coach. He was applauded for his ability to relate to players and worked with numerous stars during his player developmental time. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Shaq (at the end of his career), Tristan, Thompson, and Dion Waiters to name a few.
In 2013 he joined Cleveland’s development league team, the Canton Charge, as the top assistant coach. In 2014, he became their head coach, going 62-38 in two seasons at the helm.
He joined the Denver Nuggets organization in 2016 as an assistant and spent six years with the team until 2022. Last off-season, Fernandez made the move to Sacramento and was the head coach of the Kings’ Summer League team.
Last season, following an ejection of Kings’ head coach Mike Brown, it was Fernandez who took the clipboard and coached the team. In doing so, he became the fist Spaniard to coach an NBA team.
“In defense he is always telling us where to be and he helps us a lot,” All-Star Domantas Sabonis said after the game. “He’s the first coach on defense and that’s how we’re going to win games.”
Both Fernandez and Mike Brown coached together in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 — held in 2021 — as they led the Nigerian men’s basketball team. The two initially met at an Impact basketball camp and Brown was so impressed by the Spaniard that he that made him an offer to be his personal assistant.
Once a basketball journeyman who played professionally in Israel, Belgium, and Germany, Lee began his coaching career in 2012 at his alma mater, Bucknell. He soon made the jump to the NBA ranks.
He is a coach Mike Budenholzer disciple, having spent all nine of his years on the NBA coaching experience alongside Coach Bud, first in Atlanta and then with the Bucks. Lee has interviewed by numerous organizations in the past, having met with the New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, Utah Jazz, and Los Angeles Lakers.
Having been on the sideline for the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, Lee’s experience has made him a desirable target for head coaching vacancies this offseason. The Detroit Pistons, who parted ways with Dwayne Casey, have been increasingly interested in Lee.
If you are looking at someone who is familiar with the Phoenix Suns’ organization — what’s left of it — there is Darko Rajakovic. He served as an assistant with Minty Williams during the 2019-20 season.
Rajakovic has been been lurking around the league for years, filling numerous roles along the way. From 2004 to 2011, the Serbian was a scouting consultant and NBA Summer League assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. In 2012, he assumed the head caching job of the Tulsa 66ers, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA Developmental League affiliate.
In 2014, be joined the OKC’s NBA bench as an assistant coach. He was there until joining Phoenix in 2019. Following his season in the Valley, Rajakovic made the move to the Memphis Grizzlies, serving as an assistant to Taylor Jenkins.
“I rely on Darko so much,” Jenkins said of Darko. “He’s got a passion for the game, he’s got so much energy. It’s everything from how he handles player development, from film work, how he attacks opponent’s scouting.”
Which way Phoenix will go? Time will tell. Again, spending the time to interview all possible candidates is a good sign for the new ownership team in Phoenix. Will some believe Ishbia has been quick to make decisions, the current vetting process shows the desire to ensure the next decision is the right one.