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Simmons: Suns will pick Kevin Young as next coach, to which I ask ‘didn’t you want to win a championship?’

You can count on three fingers how many rookie head coaches have even made the Finals recently, let alone win a ring.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

As the Phoenix Suns complete their interviews to replace Monty Williams as head coach, one name has emerged as the likely favorite and it’s not a name you probably expected to hear.

While the Suns will/have interviews with veteran head coaches like Nick Nurse, Kenny Atkinson, Doc Rivers and Frank Vogel, long time podcaster and league insider Bill Simmons says pretty definitively that the Suns will promote from within by making assistant coach Kevin Young the new top man.

“Can I tell you who’s getting the Suns job?” Bill Simmons prompted to guest Kevin O’Connor on his podcast a few days ago. “From the producers of ‘I told you Bronny (James) was going to USC six weeks ago’, it’s gonna be Kevin Young.”

Simmons was also the first to say that Mat Ishbia was interested in buying the Suns way before anyone else even knew that Ishbia existed. And he had Ishbia on his podcast just two weeks ago, before the Suns season ended. So you know he’s got some connections.

On one hand, I can totally see why a young owner in Ishbia — at age 43, the youngest owner in the NBA — might want a young head coach with newer ideas and a more modern look at the game. He could look to the recent success of Boston coaches Ime Udoka, Joe Mazzulla and (in Utah) Will Hardy. Udoka got the Celtics to the Finals as a rookie coach just a year ago, while Mazzulla might do it this year.

Young is 41 years old, and only been an NBA level coach since 2016 when he joined the 76ers coaching staff under Brett Brown. There was quite the coaching tree on that Sixers bench, with Lloyd Pierce (future coach of the Atlanta Hawks), Monty Williams (Suns) and Ime Udoka (Celtics, now Rockets).

Young left the Sixers to join the Suns in 2020, and eventually worked up to Associate Head Coach level next to Williams.

Now, it appears that Young has the inside track to take over a Suns team with championship expectations, a pair of All-NBA All-Stars in Devin Booker and Kevin Durant and a bunch of question marks. They’ve been one of the most successful teams in the league and have a two year window, probably, to maximize Kevin Durant’s skills.

No pressure, right?

So here’s ‘on the other hand’. An assistant coach who’s never been an NBA head coach before almost certainly won’t be leading the Suns to championship in the next year or two.

I know you remember Tyronn Lue taking over the Cavaliers and winning it all with LeBron in 2016, and you remember Nick Nurse winning the Finals as a rookie coach in 2019 with the Raptors. But the reason you remember those guys is because they’re so rare.

Ime Udoka was close in 2022 as a rookie coach in the Finals, and then there’s... no one. Steve Kerr doesn’t count because he was never even an assistant coach before taking the Warriors to the Finals. And I know you’re thinking ‘every head coach was an assistant once’, but here’s the problem: those promoted assistants just don’t win NBA Championships in their first two years. They don’t.

Here’s the list of Finals coaches since 2010 (champs in bold):

  • Erik Spoelstra (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020)
  • Doc Rivers (2010)
  • Phil Jackson (2010)
  • Rick Carlisle (2011)
  • Scott Brooks (2012)
  • Gregg Popovich (2013, 2014)
  • David Blatt (2015)
  • Steve Kerr (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022)
  • Tyronn Lue (2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Nick Nurse (2019)
  • Frank Vogel (2020)
  • Mike Budenholzer (2021)
  • Mony Williams (2021)
  • Ime Udoka (2022)
  • Michael Malone (2023)

So I’m a little confused by the notion that Kevin Young has it in the bag while at the same time the Suns are trying maximize the last couple highly productive years of Kevin Durant.

Stay tuned, Suns fans.

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