Who Will be the Next Coach of the Phoenix Suns?

This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.

Suns owner Robert Sarver, for the most part, is cheap. While cap management is admirable and the Spurs have shown a winner can be put together while remaining under the cap, the Spurs have also shown that good chemistry and continuity produces winners. Continually trading away draft picks to avoid guaranteed salaries and the luxury tax has become the norm in Phoenix. Sarver’s latest scrooge like action? Allowing Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni to talk to other teams about coaching vacancies, and eventually agreeing to coach, gasp, the Knicks. The writing is on the wall; Suns GM Steve Kerr and Sarver didn’t want D’Antoni back; they felt he didn’t discipline young players like Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa enough and that defense wasn’t a real priority. Similarly, D’Antoni felt somewhat betrayed by the organization and believed he didn’t have the confidence of the management. Rather than firing D’Antoni, the Suns let D’Antoni leave on his own, to avoid paying him the remaining $8.5 million on his contract.

Over the past few seasons, D’Antoni has heard the same rumblings; great regular season coach who just can’t get it done in the playoffs. In his six seasons as an NBA head coach, D’Antoni has compiled a career 0.608 winning percentage, and over the past four, it has been a ludicrous 0.707. Remember, an important prerequisite for playoff success is, you know, making the playoffs. Unfortunately, D’Antoni’s teams have underachieved in the post season.

The big question is, who will replace him?

NBA coaching is the ultimate old boys club. Coaches are continually recycled. How many franchises has Rick Adelman coached? 4. Don Nelson? 5. Larry Brown? 9 if you include the ABA’s Carolina Cougars. Even Randy Wittman, he of a lifetime 0.333 winning percentage, is on his second go-around of the coaching carousel in the last eight years. Maybe its previous failures of acclaimed college coaches like Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but NBA franchises are much more comfortable hiring off of the carousel.
In recent days, Sarver and Kerr have hinted at what they’re looking for in a coach. Sarver has made it clear that they will not hire from within the organization. They also want to avoid hiring some “super young guy that doesn’t really have much experience.” There will be no current head coaches in the mix. Kerr has also said that some candidates are “assistant coaches…who are still in the playoffs” Though changes are needed, Kerr doesn’t wan to do “a 180 and all of a sudden try to turn us into something we’re not,” he believes the Suns should maintain their identity as an up-tempo team. Finally, the Suns hope to find a coach who has been “around a championship-caliber team…whether it’s coaching with them or playing for them”

That is quite a list of requirements. At this point, it’s not clear which prerequisites are valued the most or if all must be satisfied. Drawing upon my talents as a tic-tac toe player, I’ve decided to make a spreadsheet to see who most likely fits the bill.

I’ve compiled names from a variety of sources, rumors and rants. If a candidate fulfills a requirement, they will receive a 1, if they do not, a 0. Though I’m not sure the best way to evaluate how an assistant coach would maintain an up-tempo style, if they have experience as an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy or Mike Fratello, they will score low; similarly, if the candidate has no track record with regards to a category, they will receive a 0. If the candidate has coaching experience, be it as head man or as an assistant, and his team has not consistently averaged over 95 PPG, they will receive a 0 for up-tempo. Though both Doug Collins and Jeff Van Gundy have, apparently, withdrawn their names, I’ve included them anyways because it is not uncommon for broadcasters to change their mind. I have also not included any current coaches. Finally, with regards to championship experience, a 2 will be awarded for winning a ring while a 1 will be allocated for making the NBA finals.

Of course, these are just relatively arbitrary numbers; there was no overly complicated methodology, no overly complex statistical analysis and I’m sure there are significant flaws and limitations-for example, Mark Jackson has an interview scheduled, even though he scored low. What it does do is give you an idea of who Kerr and Sarver, assuming they’re on the same page, see as potential candidates.

Let’s see what the five, according to the above chart, top candidates bring to the table.

Avery Johnson – A definite mixed bag on this one. On the one hand, under Don Nelson, the Mavericks received the same criticism that D’Antoni’s Suns did - a lack of defensive grit and inability to meet playoff expectations. Under Johnson, the Mavs improved defensively and made it to the finals; they also lost twice in the first round, which eventually led to his firing.

Paul Westhead – Currently an assistant with the Seattle Supersonics. One of the concerns that Suns fans have about a new coach is how they will manage egos – while Westhead has experience trying to, he has little experience being successful with it. He began his career with the LA Lakers, a team with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; he would lead them to the Championship in 1980. Within 3 years, he was gone; many suspect he clashed with Magic behind the scenes which led to his firing.

Rudy Tomjanovic – Rudy T seemingly has everything the Suns want; 2 championships, a player’s coach, can coach an up-tempo style, and can manage egos as seen at the 2000 Olympics. He has left his previous two coaching positions because of health problems, so it’s unknown what level of interest he would have in the grind of a training camp, exhibition games, an 82 game regular season and playoffs.

Paul Silas – Silas has 3 stints as a head coach with the Cavs, Hornets and the old San Diego Clippers. Of the Suns 12 head coaches, 5 of them had played for the club. Silas played for the club in its early years and was an assistant for the team during 95-97. He also has a lifetime .470 winning percentage and has never won more than 49 games in a season as a head coach.

Kurt Rambis – Currently an assistant under Phil Jackson, Rambis played for the Suns for parts of 3 seasons, though is known as a Laker at heart having spent the bulk of his adult life associated with the team. With the Suns, apparently, on a downswing and the Lakers seemingly having a limitless potential over the next several years, picking someone who knows the Lakers system inside and out could be valuable. He also has experience coaching Shaq.

Other top candidates, as determined by the nifty chart are Lionel Hollins, Terry Porter and Paul Westphal, all NBA assistant coaches this past season.

Lionel Hollins - Though Hollins has championship experience, he has not had much success as an NBA head coach in his short stint as coach of the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Terry Porter - Porter, by many accounts should be in the top group of candidates. During his playing days, Porter played for outstanding coaches in Pat Riley, Jack Ramsay and Gregg Popovich. His stint as coach of the Bucks was cut short on a gamble by Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who believed he could hire a high profile coach such as Flip Saunders, but instead settled for Terry Stotts.

Paul Westphal – A nostalgic choice, as he has been with the Suns organization during their only 2 trips to the NBA finals, as a player in 1976 and as coach in their last appearance in the NBA Finals in 1993. He spent last season as an assistant under Avery Johnson with Dallas.

This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.

4 Responses to “Who Will be the Next Coach of the Phoenix Suns?”

  1. AJ Says:

    Clearly I missed the blockbuster news that Lionel Hollins agreed to be Scott Skiles Assistant in Milwaukee…oh my

  2. Stu P S Says:

    It can only be Thunder Dan, or Sam Cassel as a player-coach. No other alternatives should be discussed.

  3. Pope Says:

    Who knows, maybe Larry Brown will come out and say that he doesnt like it with the Bobcats and say he wants to be bought out cuz he has now changed his mind and wants to go to the suns. ahahahah Larry Brown ahahah

  4. khandor Says:

    Add-in Jeff Hornacek, for good measure. :-)

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