Ryan McDonough

Suns Notes: Front Office, Sarver, J. Jones

In an interesting, in-depth piece for ESPN.com, Kevin Arnovitz explores the Suns‘ front office, going into detail on the messiness and dysfunction in Phoenix over the last several years. Within the story, Arnovitz makes the case that the Suns have “no discernible direction,” as the roster, front office, and coaching staff have all undergone frequent changes since the club’s last playoff berth in 2010.

Arnovitz’s report includes several notable notes and rumors on the Suns – plus a terrific story involving live goats – and is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • After speaking with nearly two dozen NBA insiders, including current and former Suns players and employees, Arnovitz suggests that there’s a general consensus on some of the factors plaguing the franchise. He describes them as follows: “An interventionist owner (Robert Sarver) with more authority than expertise, a front office marred by instability, an undermanned scouting department, and a dated facility that isolates the decision-makers from the players and coaches.”
  • While former Suns GM Ryan McDonough was described by Arnovitz’s sources as having a “deep knowledge of scouting and information-gathering,” his communication and people skills weren’t considered to be as strong. Arnovitz’s sources also believe McDonough tended to value job security over his personal convictions, and would be more likely to defer to Sarver than to forcefully argue his case on personnel matters.
  • The “final straw” for McDonough’s tenure in Phoenix was his inability to fill the point guard spot during this past offseason, sources tell Arnovitz.
  • While co-interim GM James Jones has received praise for his ability to communicate with players, he’s often not in attendance at strategy and scouting meetings, deferring to fellow co-interim GM Trevor Bukstein, who is more a cap specialist. While Jones tells Arnovitz that he doesn’t want to get in Bukstein’s way, Phoenix’s front office structure has confused rival teams, who aren’t necessarily sure whom to call when they want to do business with the Suns.
  • The Suns parted ways with several members of the scouting department when they dismissed McDonough in October, and haven’t replaced those execs and scouts, per Arnovitz. Jones has the authority to hire replacements, but has elected not to do so. “One thing to think about was whether or not the size of the scouting staff was adequate, and whether they were efficient or productive,” Jones said. “It’s more than having people flying all over the country just to say that we are visible and say we were there. If you’re utilizing more video and technology, you may not need as much manpower and man-hours.”
  • Although Arnovitz has spoken to some execs who agree with Jones’ stance on scouting, others believe it “denigrates the value of information that can be gathered on-site” at a time when lottery picks are Phoenix’s best road back to contention.

Suns Notes: Rivers, Oubre, Doncic, McDonough

Although initial reports suggested the Suns would likely release Austin Rivers without a buyout, the veteran guard ended up giving back $650K to the team when he was waived this week, per Gina Mizell of The Athletic (Twitter link). Rivers had been on a $12.65MM expiring deal, so he’ll still make $12MM in 2018/19 as a result of that contract, with Phoenix paying the majority of that money.

As cap expert Albert Nahmad details (via Twitter), Rivers should still come out ahead as long as it doesn’t take him long to finalize a new deal. If Rivers signs shortly after clearing waivers on Thursday, a minimum salary contract for the rest of the season would pay him about $1.2MM. He could tack on that figure to the $12MM he’s already earning on his previous deal, exceeding $13MM for the season.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Following last week’s failed three-team trade drama and an eventual move to Phoenix, Kelly Oubre spoke to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News about his new NBA home, suggesting that he’s “excited” about the change. Sources tell Deveney that Oubre drew interest from multiple teams, including his hometown Pelicans, before the Suns acquired him.
  • Deveney also reports that Oubre would “certainly be willing” to remain in Phoenix beyond this season, despite the club’s spot at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Of course, since he’s a restricted free agent in 2019, it might be tricky for him to change teams even if he wanted to.
  • Within a profile on Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon cites a source who says that Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov “loved” Doncic, but had minimal input in Phoenix No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
  • After being fired by the Suns in October, former general manager Ryan McDonough plans to stay involved in the NBA in some capacity, but it still figuring out his next steps, he tells Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. In the meantime, he’s staying busy in an informal capacity for some NBA clubs. “A number of teams — probably a majority of the other 29 clubs — reached out, and a lot of them expressed interest in having me come visit or just kind of come observe what they do and exchange ideas and all that kind of stuff,” McDonough said. “So that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. I was in Oakland on Monday night for the Grizzlies-Warriors game and was around the Golden State group for a few days, and in the weeks before that I’ve been to Denver and Utah and San Antonio, as well.”

Former Suns GM McDonough Talks Firing, Suns, Ariza

The Suns made a surprising move during the preseason, announcing just over a week before opening night that they had fired longtime general manager Ryan McDonough. Considering the team had given McDonough the entire offseason to execute his plan for the team, which involved drafting Deandre Ayton first overall, extending Devin Booker, hiring Igor Kokoskov, trading for Mikal Bridges, and signing Trevor Ariza, the timing was considered unusual.

Speaking to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on The Jump (video link) this week, McDonough acknowledged that his dismissal was “unexpected” and that there were other times of year when he would have been more prepared for the possibility. The former Suns GM, who admitted that he was fired over the phone, also touched on a few other topics during his appearance on The Jump, so we’ll round up a few highlights…

On why he was surprised and a little frustrated by the timing of his ouster:

“I viewed the roster as not fully completed. We were working on a few trades to upgrade the team, and I guess I thought we had more time than I ended up having.”

On whether it was challenging to recruit free agents to Phoenix:

“Phoenix is a great place to live. It’s a great place to play. The team is super young, so I think that hurt us somewhat in terms of recruiting elite free agents in their prime. The two foundational pieces that we left there are 22 years old (Booker) and 20 (Ayton). I think free agents, especially veteran free agents like a LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge, look at it and say, ‘They’re a little ways away.’

“It is a challenge. There are unique challenges to every setup, every situation. The Suns have been a destination franchise in the past. I think, and hope, as Devin and Deandre and the rest of the young players improve, they will be again in the future.”

On his biggest regret from his time with the Suns:

“The biggest regret, I think, is how public some of the conflicts with the players became. I think the good organizations have historically handled that behind closed doors. And that’s not a shot at Phoenix — that’s more of a shot at me than anything. We could have done better internally, from ownership and the front office and our coaching staff in terms of communication with the players, and vice versa. If I do jump back in on the team side at some point, I’ll learn from that. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the last couple weeks, just thinking about how we can do better in that area going forward.”

On why the Suns used their cap room on Ariza instead of a point guard over the summer:

“We studied the final four teams in the league last year, and other than Cleveland with LeBron, if you look at Golden State, Houston, and Boston, they have a ton of interchangeable wing players. And a lot of times, they’ll have three or even four of them on the court at a time.

Ariza was an unrestricted free agent, he’s a West Coast guy, he had interest in coming to Phoenix, and we viewed his contract similar to how Philly viewed J.J. Redick‘s contract a year ago, where we can pay him a lot of money for one year [and] keep our future flexibility. … We thought Ariza would help us take a step from rebuilding to hopefully being playoff competitive. And then we could build from there, either with Ariza or with an elite free agent from the 2019 class.”

Lawrence’s Latest: Rockets, Butler, Stotts, Suns

The Timberwolves didn’t show much interest in the Rocketstrade offer for Jimmy Butler that featured four first-round picks along with Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, Mitch Lawrence of The Sporting News confirms. According to Lawrence, Tom Thibodeau views Knight and Chriss as “dead weight” and would prefer a deal that includes Eric Gordon and/or P.J. Tucker.

Meanwhile, Lawrence is also the latest reporter to identify the Sixers as a potential dark horse in the Butler sweepstakes. Lawrence suggests Philadelphia had hoped to trade the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder in a deal for Kawhi Leonard and could offer that pick to the Timberwolves in a Butler package.

Here’s more from Lawrence:

  • According to Lawrence, league executives think that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor will bring in someone with strong ties to the franchise to run the front office next year. Lawrence identifies Chauncey Billups as one possible candidate.
  • Although Terry Stotts appears safe as the Trail Blazers‘ head coach for now, there are rival GMs and scouts that view his position as “tenuous,” says Lawrence. Stotts, whose contract runs through 2019/20, sought an extension in the offseason but was turned down by owner Paul Allen, according to Lawrence. Allen has since passed away and his sister Jody has always been more involved with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks than the NBA club, resulting in speculation about a Blazers sale, Lawrence notes. That could create further uncertainty for Stotts.
  • One Western Conference president on the Suns, according to Lawrence: “The minority owners are furious that [owner Robert] Sarver decided on his own to fire [GM Ryan] McDonough.”
  • Lawrence echoes an earlier report, writing that the Wizards are showing no inclination to break up their team or to fire head coach Scott Brooks. However, one Eastern Conference executive cautions that could change. “Brooks’ seat could get hotter if they don’t win and management thinks the team is better than it really is,” the exec tells Lawrence.

Suns Rumors: Nash, Morris, Connelly, Point Guards

Former Suns guard and Hall of Famer Steve Nash has no interest in replacing GM Ryan McDonough, who was abruptly dismissed on Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. Though Nash is a favorite of owner Robert Sarver, Nash does not want the time-consuming responsibility of running a front office, Wojnarowski adds. Nash is currently a Warriors consultant. Vice president of basketball operations James Jones and assistant GM Trevor Bukstein have taken over GM duties in Phoenix on an interim basis.

We have more from Phoenix:

  • Former Suns Markieff Morris and Mike James voiced their distaste for McDonough on social media, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports relays. McDonough infuriated Morris, currently with the Wizards, and his brother Marcus Morris by trading Marcus to the Pistons in the summer of 2015 after they signed team-friendly contracts with Phoenix. “Bout time lol,” Morris tweeted after learning of McDonough’s dismissal. James, who was waived last December after signing a contract two weeks earlier, tweeted, “I don’t think he was the right person for that job.”
  • Suns assistant GM Pat Connelly and director of scouting Courtney Witte were also fired on Monday, Michael Scotto of The Athletic tweets. Connelly was the Wizards’ director of player personnel before he was hired by Phoenix in 2013. More front office changes could be on the horizon, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Isaiah Canaan, Shaquille Harrison and rookies De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo continue to compete for point guard duties and none has emerged, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports. First-year coach Igor Kokoskov admits that he needs to see much more from all of them. “A lot of mistakes,” he told Rankin and other media members. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
  • The timing of McDonough’s firing is an example of how Sarver has made a mess of the franchise, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post opines. The Suns will probably never reach their potential with Sarver heading the organization, Bontemps adds.

Suns Fire GM Ryan McDonough

With the 2018/19 NBA regular season just eight days away, the Suns are shaking up their front office. Phoenix has fired general manager Ryan McDonough, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Vice president of basketball operations James Jones and assistant general manager Trevor Bukstein will take over GM duties on an interim basis, Charania adds (via Twitter).

“After much thought and a long evaluation of basketball operations, I have decided to relieve Ryan McDonough of his duties as general manager of the Phoenix Suns,” team owner Robert Sarver said today in a press release confirming the move. “Our focus in the short term is to prepare for the upcoming NBA season and to continue pursuing opportunities to strengthen our roster. Over the course of the season, we will explore both internal and external options as we look to restructure our basketball front office leadership.”

The timing of the move is unusual, as teams generally make major front office changes in the spring, giving the new management group the opportunity to tackle the draft and free agency. McDonough also signed an extension last summer and had two years left on his contract, as John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 observes (via Twitter). The fact that the Suns are moving on from McDonough now suggests that ownership hasn’t necessarily been thrilled with the club’s offseason moves.

The Suns landed the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and secured a potential franchise player in Deandre Ayton, then signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza in free agency. Phoenix also locked up Devin Booker to a long-term extension. However, the club’s efforts to acquire a starting-caliber point guard have thus far been unsuccessful, a potential source of frustration for ownership. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski notes (via Twitter), many potential trade partners that the Suns have spoken to have held out for an unprotected first-round pick in any deal.

McDonough’s tenure with the Suns began in May of 2013. The club won 48 games in his first season as general manager, but finished below .500 for the next four years, failing to record more than 24 wins in any of the last three seasons.

McDonough’s roster moves during his time in Phoenix have been hit and miss, with solid draft picks like Booker and T.J. Warren balanced out by less impactful top-10 selections like Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss.

The Suns have also rotated through three head coaches in the five years since McDonough was hired, going from Jeff Hornacek to Earl Watson to Igor Kokoskov. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the team’s hole at point guard might be particularly vexing for ownership since it wasn’t long ago that Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas were all on the roster.

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Sarver – who has recently become more involved in the Suns’ day-to-day operations – is fond of Jones, who will become a candidate for the organization’s permanent GM job. Wojnarowski also suggests that Kevin McHale is a long-term candidate to watch, while Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated wouldn’t be surprised to see former Cavs GM David Griffin receive consideration for the Phoenix position (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

McDonough: Suns ‘Overwhelmingly Likely’ To Keep No. 1 Pick

While nothing has been officially ruled out, Suns‘ general manager Ryan McDonough said it is “overwhelmingly likely” that the team keeps the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Scott Bordow of Arizona Central Sports writes.

“There’s a very small grouping of players we’d consider trading it for,” McDonough said of the No. 1 pick. “It would have to be a proven young star player with multiple years on his contract or multiple years of team control. Once you start whittling down the list, that list probably shrinks to a handful of players, if not fewer players than that, so I think the overwhelming likelihood is that we keep the pick.”

We relayed last week that Phoenix is considering a “handful” of options in the draft. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton is the likely first overall pick and has been heavily rumored to be the Suns’ choice. However, international star Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley III have also been mentioned as possibilities. Doncic has a relationship with the team’s new head coach, Igor Kokoskov.

It is difficult and I think people are jumping to conclusions as far as [thinking] there’s only one or two guys in the mix for us,” general manager McDonough said in an interview with ESPN. “There are more than that. There are a handful of guys.

If the Suns are comfortable with several of the perceived top choices, McDonough can follow in the footsteps of the Celtics last season. Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3, using it to select Jayson Tatum. Markelle Fultz went to the Sixers first overall.

Barring a change of heart, however, it is widely expected that the Suns keep the No. 1 selection, with Ayton viewed as the frontrunner to head to Phoenix.

Pacific Notes: Untouchable Players, Bagley, Collins, McDonough

The Lakers have a busy offseason ahead of them as the organization enters the summer with ample cap space and a young roster loaded with potential. However, when it comes to trade discussions, the Lakers have let teams know that nobody on the roster is untouchable, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times writes.

“While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations,” Ganguli writes.

Los Angeles wields four solid young assets, including Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram. All four players are 23 years old or younger, which gives the Lakers a surplus of talent to deal with.

Check out more Pacific Division notes below:

  • The 2018 NBA Draft will be the Lakers’ opportunity to move on from the now ill-fated trades to acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in 2013. The team does not have its own first-round pick this year, stemming from the Nash trade, Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus writes.
  • In a fun piece, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times looks at Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins and how he may be fighting a bias against really tall people getting head coaching jobs. Collins, who stands at 6’11”, would be the tallest head coach in the league if he were hired.
  • The Kings own the second overall pick in the NBA Draft and a lot has been made of who Sacramento will target. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee examines whether or not drafting Duke’s Marvin Bagley III makes sense given the team’s surplus of big men.
  • Suns general manager Ryan McDonough gave a personal scouting report on Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic as the team prepares to pick first in the draft, Scott Bordow of Arizona Central Sports writes. Ayton and Doncic — if he commits to leaving Europe for the NBA — are widely expected to be the top two picks.

Suns Considering ‘Handful’ Of Options For Top Pick

While the early consensus is that there are two players in the running to get drafted first overall, the Suns are considering a handful of options ahead of the big day. Adam Zagoria of ZAGSBLOG writes that the club met with No. 3-ranked Marvin Bagley III at the Draft Combine.

It is difficult and I think people are jumping to conclusions as far as [thinking] there’s only one or two guys in the mix for us,” general manager Ryan McDonough said in an interview with ESPN. “There are more than that. There are a handful of guys.

Of course it will be hard to imagine the perceived values of DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic dropping enough that the No. 1 pick goes to somebody else, even if that means the Suns end up trading it.

If you look around the NBA as far as the veteran players, there are probably a few players we would consider trading the pick for,” McDonough said. “It will be a busy month for us.

Perhaps that’s just McDonough doing his diligence and broadcasting that he’s open to high-value offers involving young stars with multiple years of team control left on their contracts.

For now, it’s reasonable to assume that the team will take advantage of the luck bestowed upon them at the Draft Lottery and, with that in mind, it’s worth noting that not only was Suns VP of Basketball Operations James Jones in attendance to watch Doncic play in the EuroLeague Final Four (h/t international hoops reporter David Pick) but franchise owner Robert Sarver was too (h/t Jonathan Givony of ESPN).

Couple that with the first-overall buzz that for months has surrounded Ayton, the Arizona Wildcat with whom the Suns are already quite familiar, and it’s hard to imagine the team turning down the opportunity to draft a potential franchise player at No. 1.

It’s still early and plenty can change in the weeks leading up to June 21. For now, it’s worth recognizing that Ayton and Doncic remain the conventional choices for the top two picks but that any team in the Suns’ position would be foolish not to explore all possible options.

If, when the dust settles, the team somehow still isn’t convinced about either Ayton or Doncic, there’s always the possibility of McDonough taking a page from Danny Ainge‘s book and swapping the first overall pick for a lower pick and additional assets, as Luke Adams wrote in a Suns feature yesterday.

Suns To Hire Igor Kokoskov As New Head Coach

The Suns are hiring Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov as their new head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wojnarowski adds that Kokoskov is signing a three-year deal with the Suns, while Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune tweets that Kokoskov will remain with the Jazz through the remainder of their playoff run.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 reports that the contract will contain no options and that the final decision to hire Kokoskov came when team representatives met with him in Houston yesterday in between Games 1 and 2 of the Jazz’ first round series against the Rockets.

The Suns have confirmed the news, writing that the hire will make Kokoskov the first NBA head coach born and raised outside North America in NBA history.

“We are thrilled to bring Valley resident Igor Kokoskov back to Arizona as head coach of the Phoenix Suns,” said GM Ryan McDonough. “Igor has been a pioneer throughout his basketball career and he brings a wealth of high level coaching experience to our club.

“He was one of the first non-American born assistant coaches at both the NCAA and NBA levels and his most recent head coaching stint includes leading the Slovenian national team to the 2017 EuroBasket title, which was the first European title in the history of the country. Igor’s teams have always had a player development focus, a creative style of play and a track record of success.”

Kokoskov, 46, will become the 19th head coach in Suns’ franchise history in his 19th season as an NBA coach. He was as an assistant coach with the Suns from 2008-2013 during their run of success with Steve Nash, including a trip to 2010 Western Conference Finals.

Kokoskov is also a successful international head coach, leading Slovenia to a first place finish at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 and also coaching the Georgian national team from 2008-2015. One member of the Slovenian national team he coached: potential top-pick Luka Doncic.