Joe Prunty

Suns Notes: Kokoskov, Ayton, Coaching Search

The Suns‘ decision to dismiss head coach Igor Kokoskov was more about the club’s direction and circumstances rather than its win-loss record, says John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter links). When Kokoskov was hired, there was an expectation that the Suns would look to contend for a playoff spot right away, but after regressing and getting younger in 2018/19, the club wants to start over with someone new.

As Gambadoro explains (via Twitter), the Suns figure to target a coach who is more of a player-development specialist than a tactician. Deandre Ayton‘s development, in particular, will be a primary focus for the club’s next coach, with Gambadoro suggesting (via Twitter) that the young center wasn’t always used in the right way during his rookie season.

While Monty Williams and David Vanterpool have been identified as the first two names on the Suns’ list of potential targets, the team is expected to talk to many candidates, according to Gambadoro, who notes that there’s no set timeline for a new hire.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Touching on another reason that Kokoskov was let go, Gambadoro tweets that Suns players liked the head coach, but felt as though assistant Joe Prunty was more in charge of the bench than Kokoskov was.
  • The Suns are about to employ their seventh head coach since the start of the 2012/13 season, and Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic argues that team owner Robert Sarver is to blame for the seemingly endless coaching turnover in Phoenix. All of the Suns’ dysfunction can be traced back to Sarver, according to Somers, who writes that the owner mistakenly believes he knows how to identify talent on the court and in the front office.
  • The Suns named James Jones as their permanent general manager and hired Jeff Bower as their senior VP of basketball operations the day after the regular season ended. Since then, Jones and Bower have yet to speak publicly. That has to change after the firing of Kokoskov, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who contends that the club owes it to its fans to explain the decision and discuss the franchise’s direction.

Central Notes: Budenholzer, Sexton, Sabonis

The Bucks credit new coach Mike Budenholzer for their hot start, as Nick Friedell of ESPN relays. The Bucks’ offense has more structure than it did under former coach Jason Kidd and interim coach Joe Prunty, multiple players told Friedell and other media members. “We have multiple sets we can get into, we have — just more of a foundation to play off of rather than just freestyle,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. The players are displaying trust in the system, which emphasizes 3-point shots and ball movement, Friedell adds. “I think teams are starting to take notice and realize we’re not the Bucks that we were when I first got here six years ago,” small forward Khris Middleton said. “We’re a totally different team even from last year.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers coach Larry Drew is going to ride the team’s first-round pick and he’s told the rest of the team to buy in. Drew has instructed his veterans that they need to allow rookie point guard Collin Sexton to work through his mistakes, according to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer“I actually pulled some guys to the side when we were in Orlando (on Monday),” Drew said. “That was my exact point — having to be patient with a 19-year-old kid.”
  • Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis is off to a hot start and that presents a tricky dilemma for the front office, Zach Lowe of ESPN notes. Myles Turner signed a four-year, $72MM extension last month but Sabonis has thus far outplayed him. Statistics bear out that Indiana’s offense suffers when both are on the court, though Turner has a higher ceiling because of his 3-point shooting and rim protection, Lowe continues. Sabonis is eligible for an extension prior to the start of next season but it’s tough to pay big bucks for two players at the same position, Lowe adds.
  • The Pistons rank among the top 10 in the league in open 3-point attempts, yet they’ve done a poor job of making them. Meanwhile, the Bulls have been bit hard by the injury bug. Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at some of the areas of concern for Central Division clubs.

Suns Rumors: Bridges, Free Agency, Coaches, Williams

The addition of Mikal Bridges gives the Suns a logjam at the forward spots and they still need to address their point guard situation, Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic writes.

After the draft-night trade with the Sixers to acquire Bridges’ rights, the Suns now have five recent first-rounders – Josh JacksonT.J. WarrenDragan Bender and Marquese Chriss being the others – angling for playing time in the frontcourt. GM Ryan McDonough said he might add a stretch four in free agency, Bordow continues, so they could use that depth in a trade, with Chriss and Warren the most likely to be dealt.

Despite selecting Frenchman Elie Okobo with the first pick of the second round, the Suns still need another veteran at that spot, and McDonough confirmed they could pursue a floor leader in free agency, Bordow adds.

We have more on the Suns:

  • The Suns consider Bridges a “special player” and that’s why they were willing to deal the No. 16 pick and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder for him, Bob Baum of the Associated Press reports. ‘‘We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. ”We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about Mikal.”
  • With $15-$20MM available to pursue free agents, the Suns will be proactive in free agency, Baum adds in the same piece. ‘We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency,” McDonough said. “We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”
  • Joe Prunty, Corliss Williamson, Jamelle McMillan, Jason Staudt and Cody Toppert have officially signed up as assistants for new head coach Igor Kokoskov, Bordow tweets.
  • It’s hard to imagine the Suns will retain center Alan Williams on his current deal, Bordow adds in another tweet. Williams, whose $5.52MM salary is not guaranteed, would get a full guarantee if he’s still on the roster through July 6. He’d be a third-string center behind Deandre Ayton and Tyson Chandler if he sticks.

Suns Hiring Joe Prunty As Lead Assistant

A former NBA head coach will become the new lead assistant on Igor Kokoskov‘s staff in Phoenix, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that the Suns have agreed to a deal with Joe Prunty to fill that role.

A veteran NBA assistant who has worked for the Spurs, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, and Nets, Prunty was the lead assistant on Jason Kidd‘s staff in Milwaukee. When the Bucks fired Kidd halfway through the 2017/18 season, Prunty took over as the club’s interim head coach.

After leading the Bucks to a playoff berth and a first-round exit, Prunty received consideration for the permanent head coaching job in Milwaukee, and was one of the many candidates interviewed by the franchise. However, the team ultimately decided on Mike Budenholzer, leaving Prunty looking for work elsewhere.

A report in May indicated that the Suns were expected to hire Mike Woodson as the new lead assistant on Kokoskov’s staff, but no deal had been formally reached at that time. It’s unclear whether Woodson, a former Knicks head coach and Clippers assistant, still fits into Phoenix’s plans, or whether he’ll land with another team now that Prunty is poised to become Kokoskov’s right-hand man.

Coaching Rumors: Raptors, Casey, Bucks, Knicks

As we relayed in our story on Dwane Casey‘s firing earlier today, it didn’t take long for one outside candidate to be linked to the Raptors‘ head coaching job, with Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski both reporting that Mike Budenholzer is a name to watch.

Budenholzer’s name continues to surface in relation to the Raptors’ newly-opened coaching position. Sources confirmed to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link) that Toronto is expected to pursue Budenholzer, while Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link) hears from coaching sources that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has “strong interest” in the former Hawks head coach.

As we wait to see if Budenholzer emerges as the favorite for the Raptors’ job, let’s round up more coaching rumors and notes from around the NBA…

  • According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today (Twitter link), Casey – who had one year left on his contract – sought an extension from the Raptors before he was let go. Zillgitt speculates that stance may have forced Ujiri’s hand.
  • ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) and Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provide updates on the Bucks‘ coaching search, writing that the first round of interviews should wrap up this week. Milwaukee has interviewed Ettore Messina, Steve Clifford, Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams, and Joe Prunty so far, and still has meetings lined up with David Blatt and Becky Hammon. GM Jon Horst figures to narrow the team’s list to three or four finalists, at which point team ownership will get involved in the process.
  • A source tells Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press that Jerry Stackhouse “interviews well” for coaching jobs, but “does rub some people the wrong way.” Stackhouse entered the offseason as a popular rising head coaching candidate, but has yet to gain traction for any open jobs. In fact, despite a mid-April report indicating Stackhouse would meet with the Magic, that interview has yet to happen, per Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel.
  • New Knicks head coach David Fizdale is expected to hire Nick Van Exel to join his staff in New York, sources tell Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Like Keith Smart, who is also reportedly set to join the Knicks, Van Exel was on Fizdale’s staff in Memphis.

Bucks Line Up Coaching Interviews For This Week

The Bucks have a busy week of head coaching interviews ahead of them, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports (via Twitter) that the team will meet with Steve Clifford today after sitting down with Ettore Messina on Saturday.

In addition to today’s meeting with Clifford, the Bucks also have interviews lined up this week with Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams, Becky Hammon, James Borrego, and David Blatt, per Wojnarowski. All of those interviewees had been previously named as potential candidates for the Milwaukee job, with Budenholzer and Williams viewed as possible favorites.

Assuming all those interviews take place this week as planned, the Bucks’ list of completed meetings would be up to at least seven. A recent report indicated that interim coach Joe Prunty would also get to interview for the permanent job, though it’s not clear if that meeting has already taken place or if he’ll sit down with Bucks management later in the process.

Wojnarowski said last week that the Bucks may interview up to about 10 candidates for their head coaching position, so it’s possible that one or two other contenders could join the fray. Jim Cleamons reportedly spoke informally to the club about the job, making him one candidate for a more formal interview.

Bucks To Interview Becky Hammon, James Borrego

The Bucks intend to interview Spurs assistant Becky Hammon for their head coaching position, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. As Wojnarowski notes, Hammon became the NBA’s first female assistant coach in 2014, and will now be the first woman to ever interview for an NBA head coaching job.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

A member of the Spurs’ staff for the last four seasons, Hammon had a lengthy career as a player, spending several seasons with the WNBA’s New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars and earning six WNBA All-Star nods. She also played for a handful of international teams in Spain and Russia.

As Wojnarowski details in his report, this is the second time the Bucks have met with Hammon, as the two sides also spoke about the club’s general manager opening a year ago. According to Woj, Hammon isn’t necessarily viewed as a frontline candidate for Milwaukee’s head coaching opening, but GM Jon Horst and team ownership are intrigued enough to ask the Spurs for permission to speak to her.

Hammon will be the fourth Spurs assistant to interview for a head coaching job this offseason. Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka, and James Borrego have also received consideration from one or more teams. We heard earlier today that Messina is among the candidates scheduled to talk to the Bucks, and Wojnarowski adds Borrego to that list as well, tweeting that he’ll interview with the club next week.

In total, the Bucks reportedly plan to interview four members of the Spurs for their head coaching job: Hammon, Messina, Borrego, and vice president of basketball operations Monty Williams.

Wojnarowski notes that Mike Budenholzer, previously identified as a candidate for Milwaukee, will meet with the Bucks too. Meanwhile, Horst confirmed that interim coach Joe Prunty has “earned the right” to be a part of the process, and will be among those interviewed (Associated Press report via NBA.com).

Central Notes: Bucks, Doncic, Pacers

As we relayed yesterdayBucks’ interim head coach Joe Prunty is still a candidate to retain Milwaukee’s head coaching position. However, as we also indicated, former Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer is just one name circulating as a possible replacement for Prunty, with the Bucks planning to conduct an open and active search for their next head coach.

According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the Bucks would be wise to move on from Prunty and seek a head coach who can do a better job of inserting franchise cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo into a superstar role. Per Deveney, the Bucks have failed to do so to this point in Antetokounmpo’s young career, and it is negatively affecting both Antetokounmpo and the team.

Deveney mentions Budenholzer, former Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, and former Cavaliers coach David Blatt as worthwhile candidates for the position, but ultimately opines that whoever the Bucks hire, he needs to be able to formulate an offense that runs through Antetokounmpo, creating mismatches and finding options for when teams double team him.

Deveney also touches on what he deems disappointing seasons from role players Tony Snell, Thon Maker, and Matthew Dellavedova, as well as the upcoming free agency of former No. 2 overall pick, Jabari Parker. Deveney feels that the best case scenario for the Bucks, although highly unlikely, is a total lack of suitors for Parker, thereby opening the door for the Bucks to potentially sign Parker to a one-year deal at the value of his qualifying offer.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Regardless of how the Bucks plan on approaching Parker’s free agency, at least one teammate is extremely confident that the former Duke star is not leaving Milwaukee (story).
  • As one part of a 10-part series focusing on the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft, Marc Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago argues that the Bulls should select Luka Doncic if he is available when Chicago makes its selection in June, as his elite-level passing ability is a perfect fit for today’s fast-paced NBA game.
  • Fresh off a heartbreaking loss to the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the teams’ first round series, the Pacers should be excited about their promising future, writes Michael Marot of The Associated Press. As Marot notes, the Pacers could have their top eight players all back next year if Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph exercise their player options and the Pacers exercise their team option on fan favorite Lance Stephenson.

Central Notes: Hill, Prunty, James, Porter

The Cavaliers got their first real payout from the George Hill acquisition during Game 7 against the Pacers on Sunday, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Hill returned from a back injury to score 11 points in 19 minutes but his health remains an issue in the upcoming series against the Raptors, Pluto continues. Hill was a pricey acquisition from the Kings, as Cleveland picked up a contract that will pay the veteran point guard $20MM this season and $19MM next year.

In other news around the Central Division:

  • Interim Joe Prunty will be a candidate to retain the Bucks’ head coaching job but there will be an open, active search to fill that spot, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. There’s no timeline on the coaching search, but the Bucks will likely make a decision prior to the free agency period in July, Velazquez adds.
  • LeBron James run of seven straight Finals appearances will end abruptly in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Martin Rogers of the USA Today predicts. James’ heroics won’t be enough against the top seeded Raptors, who are better, younger, fresher, and more technically sound than Cleveland, Rogers adds.
  • Landing Michael Porter Jr. in the draft would be a best-case scenario for the Bulls, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times opines. Chicago wants to improve at the wing and Porter would fill that need as long as the medical reports on the Missouri freshman are positive, Cowley continues. The Bulls are not far enough along in their current rebuild to attract a top-level NBA wing player, so the draft is probably the best place to upgrade that area, according to Cowley.

Bucks Could Challenge Knicks For Budenholzer

The Bucks pose a threat to the Knicks in the pursuit of ex-Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks are reportedly focused on Budenholzer and ex-Cavs coach David Blatt to replace Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after the season. But if Milwaukee decides not to remove the interim tag from Joe Prunty, several league sources told Berman that the Bucks would join the Budenholzer sweepstakes. The Bucks are already a playoff team and have a young superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, adding to their appeal, Berman continues.

Prunty was named interim coach of the Bucks in late January when they fired Jason Kidd. The Bucks responded by making the playoffs and testing the Celtics to the limit in the opening round of the playoffs. Milwaukee hasn’t made any announcement regarding Prunty’s status.

The Bucks’ president is former Knicks executive Peter Feigin.