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Here Comes the Suns’ Coaching Search

Six candidates Phoenix could (and probably should) consider to be its next head coach

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is officially on the hunt for a new head coach, presumably because the 19-53 Suns do not have much else going on. The franchise fired head coach Earl Watson on October 22, just three games into the 2017-18 season. Jay Triano, who took over in the interim, is being considered for the permanent job, per McDonough.

There are three NBA teams with coaching vacancies: Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Memphis. The Bucks have Giannis, and the Grizzlies will likely add an elite prospect in this year’s draft, but the Suns have a wealth of young, promising talents to advertise to potential coaches. Besides Triano, there are a number of candidates McDonough could, or should, be eyeing. Here’s a look at the safe bets (i.e., coaches who will likely be in the running), some interesting choices, and a pair of long shots.

Safe Bets

Mark Jackson

Mama, here comes that man! Wouldn’t it be great to hear Jackson bust out his catchphrases in a huddle for an ESPN “Mic’d Up” segment? His name has been thrown around since the Warriors let him go in 2014. Jackson led Golden State to a 121-109 record over three seasons, though that success pales in comparison to what Steve Kerr was able to accomplish after taking over.

That said, Suns management might be interested in the defense Jackson instilled in Golden State. Kerr has complimented his predecessor for it, saying he “didn’t change one thing defensively,” after taking over. “Our schemes—everything—stayed the same.” That could sound quite appealing for Phoenix, which ranks dead last in defense, and will finish in the bottom five for the third straight season.

Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy and his broadcast partner going up for the same job is an ABC drama I would make time for. No name comes up more when there’s an opening for head coach than JVG, who has been out of the coaching game since 2007. Van Gundy also has a good track record on defense, having produced top-10 defenses in all but one of his 11 seasons with New York and Houston—the one being the 2001-02 season, when he coached just 19 games.

Reports surfaced in 2016 claiming that Van Gundy was interested in a coaching job only if it were paired with front-office responsibilities. (Wouldn’t you want what big brother has?) That dual position is becoming less and less common around the league, though, with only Stan Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau holding the title after Doc Rivers was stripped of it this season.

Interesting Choices

Monty Williams

The last time New Orleans reached the playoffs, in 2015, it was under Williams. Nearly his entire tenure with the Pelicans was a raw deal: The team constantly dealt with injuries, and GM Dell Demps traded away virtually all of their draft picks for ready-made young veterans. Adrian Wojnarowski reported the night that the Pels clinched the playoffs that Demps and Williams were given a playoff mandate before the season in order to keep their jobs. Demps stayed, but Williams was let go—which is probably all you need to know about the duo’s relationship.

Williams, who is now in the Spurs’ front office, didn’t have the smoothest start to his head-coaching career. But he was respected for his ability to develop and connect with young talent—hello, Anthony Davis—which a team starting only one player old enough to rent a car could find appealing.

David Fizdale

Fizdale got only 101 regular-season games as head coach in Memphis before he was axed this past November. Like Williams, he ran into roster and injury issues (Chandler Parsons falling into both categories); unlike Williams, he had to deal with an unhappy star in Marc Gasol. Fizdale set up Mike Conley to flourish by introducing pace-and-space to Grit ’N’ Grind, but the point guard was already sidelined with the injury that would cost him the rest of this season when Fizdale was fired. Fiz has been perceived as a popular candidate for whatever jobs would pop up ever since.

Long Shots

Steve Nash

After firing Earl Watson, the Suns might be a tad hesitant to offer up the position to someone without experience at the wheel, even a franchise favorite like Nash. But if there’s anyone Suns owner Robert Sarver is willing to take the risk on, it’s the guy he bought a professional soccer team with. Go Mallorca!

Nash is in his second season as a player development consultant with Golden State; shortly before he started, the Suns reportedly reached out to him for the head-coaching spot that eventually went to Watson. Nash wasn’t ready at that time, according to an ESPN report, but maybe his experience since (and the ring he nabbed!) would change things.

Becky Hammon

The Spurs assistant coach doesn’t have any head-coaching experience, but four seasons under Gregg Popovich might as well be a master class in the profession. Hammon recently turned down an offer to take over for her alma mater, Colorado State, to stay on San Antonio’s staff.

Hammon, who played professionally for over a decade, may not have as many years running a huddle as SVG. But she’s regarded as a young up-and-comer, which might be a good fit for a young Suns team.