A list of baffling decisions, a catastrophic run of games, a backroom in chaos, a changing room in disarray, while the front office seems to be failing management 101. So what exactly is happening with the Phoenix Suns? It seems at the moment just about everything, and finding a place to start is no easy task, although like most crisis in sport, bad results are the root cause.
The simple fact is, had the Phoenix Suns been winning then everything would be running smoothly, but for the Arizona based franchise the former has not been happening. The Suns are rooted to the floor of the Western Conference with a 13-28 record, and with results not looking like changing, the front office decided to act.
Coach Alvin Gentry was ousted on the 18th January by Suns general manager Lance Blanks, a decision that did not sit well with some players and coaches. Of course, it is the GM’s prerogative to act in such a way, and with the current mire his team finds itself in, it is hard to pick too many holes in his decision. However, what has happened since has left some scratching their heads, while others look on at the developing soap opera at Phoenix.
Firstly there is the appointment of Lindsey Hunter as Gentry’s successor, a move that has left many confused. Hunter was the Suns player development coach, but it appears the franchise had two more qualified coaches within its ranks that could have stepped up to the head coach position.
Both Dan Majerle and Elston Turner have been working as Suns assistants, and are two highly regarded up-and-comers in the NBA. Majarle is a former Suns player and fan favourite, while Turner has been in the running for several head coach positions in the NBA, and it is thought there is only a matter of time before he lands a head position. The fact these two were overlooked has left a sour taste, so much so that both Turner and Majerle have left the franchise, and considering the lack of experience Hunter has, they seem justified in their actions.
When Hunter takes The Suns to Sacramento tonight, he will be entering the fray as a head coach for the first time, and not just in the NBA, but of any kind. Is this the time for an inexperienced head at Phoenix? Probably not, this is why Hunter’s appointment has been met with derision.
Front office face off
One player who will not be accompanying Hunter and the Suns to Sacramento is center Jermaine O’Neal who did not practice on Tuesday after a bust-up with GM Lance Blanks. At first it appeared that O’Neal was either upset with Hunter’s appointment or Gentry’s dismissal, but Blanks has since denied this.
“Our interaction had nothing to do with the coaching situation. I can tell you that, with one hundred percent certainty” Blanks told USA Today Sports.
The Euro connection
The chaos at the Suns has implications in Europe too, yet another twist in this saga. The promotion of Igor Kokoskov from an assistant to the first assistant is a big step forward for the European game, but a full promotion to head coach at some point could raise eyebrows. Kokoskov is a respected figure, and he has enjoyed 11 years in the NBA after a successful time in Serbia, and he is now one step away from head coach, and the fact he was actually interviewed for the current Suns post suggests he is close to landing a big job.
Kokoskov is a multiple record breaker, with firsts just slipping off the page:
1st Non-American Coach in NCAA History (University of Missouri)
1st Non-American Coach in NBA History (Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons
1st Non-American Coach who an NBA Champion Title in 2004 with Detroit Pistons
1st Non-American Coach who was a member of NBA All-Stars Coaching Staff in 2006 (Houston, TX)
Becoming the first Non-American head coach would be a natural progression, and with his history he will feel he is the best placed European to become an NBA head coach. So why would Kokoskov becoming a head coach one day raise eyebrows in Europe? Well, there are some in the European game that would think a superstar coach from the continent would be the first to get the accolade.
Certainly supporters of Ettore Messina (CSKA Moscow, Russia) and Zeljko Obradovic who is currently on sabbatical will feel that these two coaches are prime European candidates for a head coach position in the NBA. Both Messina and Obradovic have won the Euroleague on multiple occasions, while both are also serial winners in the domestic leagues they have coached in. With huge pedigree they and their supporters will feel they have a good enough standing to make the move to the NBA, especially as Messina has already had a coaching role with the LA Lakers.
However, Kokoskov has much more NBA experience than the two above, and it could well be a case that him having his foot in the door so to speak will help him to become the first European head coach in the league at some point.
Until then he will continue to assist the ailing Suns as they attempt to steer the ship to calmer waters.