Suns GM McDonough: Focus is on hiring best head coach available

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough made one thing very clear at an introductory press conference Thursday: his focus is on hiring a new head coach first and foremost.

And at least from what was said inside US Airways Center, it looks like the search will be his to lead.

“I’m going to be spearheading the [coaching] process,” McDonough said. “The process has already begun. That was part of my interview with Robert [Sarver] and Lon [Babby]. We discussed different candidates and who we thought would be good fits. We were in alignment with a lot of the names, most of the names.

“We have an initial list and have received a good amount of interest from people all over the basketball world who want to be the head coach of this storied franchise and see a great opportunity here. My first order of business as the general manager is to find the best guy for that job. Obviously, I’ll be working closely with Robert and Lon and the rest of our staff on that.”

McDonough was on Danny Ainge’s basketball operations staff when the Boston Celtics hired Doc Rivers in April 2004, but it’s hard to believe he had much of a hand in that decision given he was just 23 and a special assistant at the time.

With that said, developing his craft over a 10-year period — whether as the director of international scouting, director of player personnel or assistant general manager — in an organization that featured three figures with head coaching experience (Ainge, Rivers and ultimately Tom Thibodeau after he left Boston) certainly left an impression on the new Suns GM.

While he’s never made a hiring of this magnitude, McDonough noted that he had a very clear vision of what he wants in the franchise’s next head coach.

“I want someone who is a leader,” said McDonough. “We need someone who commands the respect of the players and commands the respect of the entire organization. We also need someone who is a teacher, who can help our young players develop and get better, and maximize their individual talent.

“The list that Lon, Robert and I have compiled, all the guys on that list have those characteristics. I’m confident we are going to get somebody good.”

Somebody good could mean virtually anyone, but names have begun to surface over the last few days.

Arizona Sports 620′s John Gambadoro wrote Wednesday that he believes the list is comprised of four assistant coaches: Brian Shaw (Pacers), Kelvin Sampson (Rockets), Mike Budenholzer (Spurs) and Quin Snyder (CSKA Moscow/formerly with the Lakers).

McDonough was asked about those four candidates in a radio interview with Burns and Gambo Thursday and had plenty to say on the entire search.

“Those [four coaches] are all good names,” said McDonough. “The short answer is yes [we’re looking at a framework based on guys like that], but the longer answer is we are looking at other guys as well. We’re open to all kinds of coaches, guys who have had success whether it be at the head coaching level, the assistant coaching level. We’re really just trying to evaluate all of them and prioritize that now.

“One of the exciting things in the few days since I’ve accepted the job is the amount of interest and the amount of people who are trying to throw their hat in the ring. So that is my first priority here, to rank all of those guys and reach out to them and get the interview process started.”

What about Lindsey?

In addition to touching on Gambadoro’s aforementioned list of candidates, McDonough addressed during his press conference whether interim head coach Lindsey Hunter would seriously be considered for the position.

“We will meet with Lindsey. I don’t know him very well, but I’ve heard good things about Lindsey’s character, and his toughness and his work ethic,” said McDonough. “So Lindsey is a candidate. I know he’s interviewed for jobs elsewhere, but he’s a candidate for us as well and we’re going to go into it with an open mind and consider all the top guys. Lindsey is one of the top guys.”

After taking over for Alvin Gentry on Jan. 20, Hunter went 12-29 to finish out the 2012-13 season, including 20 losses by 10 points or more.

While McDonough didn’t give an exact timetable for when the actual hiring would take place, with the NBA Combine set to start in Chicago on May 15 and plenty of top candidates still available for other teams (Bobcats, Nets and Pistons) to snatch up, the Suns new GM reiterated that a move needs to be made sooner rather than later.

  • GeorgeSteenburgh

    I am all for interviewing Mo Cheeks

  • foreveris2long

    Being a leader and teacher are great qualities in a head coach. Give me someone with those qualities who knows something about Xs and Os and he will be a winner. His players will go though a wall for him.

    Mark Jackson for the Warriors have the above qualities and in two years they are balling at a high level. Everyone knows about their prize draft choices in Curry, Thompson and Barnes but it is Ezeli drafted at #30 and D. Green at 35 in 2012 who are playing nice rolls in their rookie campaign. Props to the Warriors.

  • FAR

    I endorse to Mike Budenholzer for the HC

  • Scott

    I’ve read that Nate McMillan and Kelvin Sampson are interviewing for the head coaching job with the Bucks.

    McMillan has also interviewed in Detroit.

  • hawki

    Back in prehistoric times (1971) my HS basketball team lost to Holbrook HS in the semis of the AZ state basketball tournament.
    Their star player was Vince Budenholzer, who is the father (or possibly eldest brother) of Mike Budenholzer.
    Holbrook went on to win the class A State Title.

    Not sure if that is an endorsement for Budenholzer but it does bring back fond (well almost ) memories.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    Anyone but Hunter, please. To rehire Hunter would be like getting an oil change and putting back the old oil filter.


  • DBreezy

    McD’s description of a coach was basically Doc Rivers when they took him out post- Orlando, nothing wrong with that.

  • Forever is2long

    I cannot believe I said Mark Jackson “have” instead of has the above qualities. I didn’t even have a beer to blame that blunder on. Silly me.

  • a-game

    According to gambo, Nate McMillan to the suns is NOT going to happen. Good i didnt want him anyway.

    Budenholzer or shaw tickles my fancy :-P

  • DBreezy


    How would you guys compare a freshman MKG with junior Oladipo? True frosh Beal and redshirt BMac? Sophomore Barnes with Shabazz?

  • frenchysunsfan

    Avery Johnson would be a good choice IMO.

  • DBreezy

    Avery probably got unfairly punished for the general low flame of the Nets roster and the Marbury like swath of coaches DWill seems to be running through, but he doesn’t seem like a good fit for a young roster. To me he’s best suited for a veteran roster that can put up with his chirping a la Larry Brown in IND.

  • DBreezy

    To me the coaching search is important, but not as important as it was before they decided on McD for GM. Imo, this roster is more similar to Orlando last summer than say Seattle’s when Presti took over. It doesn’t have the direction that even a young and raw Durant brought. McD can shape things the way he wants while finding the right fit for him coaching wise however long it takes.

    On that note I wonder if history will give Paul Silas and PJ Carlesimo the credit that it gives Doug Collins in forming young Lebron and Durant for Brown, Spoelstra and Brooks? It surely hasn’t been that kind to Del Harris which is a serious shame.

  • CoachJ

    I think they made a mistake in hiring this GM. The bold aggressive move would have been to go to Phil Jackson and give him the control he is seeking – Let him GM and coach this team.

    We would have had nothing to lose there. Jackson would be close to LA, in a warm weather climate, with an organization that has a great history of success but is waiting for someone to come in an put them over the top. From a free agent prospective, having PJ here would attract every top FA in the league, giving us an ability to pull in talent that we otherwise will not be able to get.

    Oh, and he can coach a little.

    I think once again, Sarver has missed the boat. But all is too late at this point. Maybe this GM can get things done, but with Babby looming over him, I am not sure how that happens. Still waiting to hear a reasonable plan for this franchise.

  • BCrayZ

    Head coach vs. assistant coach is an entirely different role.

    Will he consider taking Alvin back if Alvin will come back? With his comments thus far, my greatest concern is that Ryan will be able to add the title of GM to his resume, but not be given a free hand.

    While we are on the subject of going with someone whom we know, what about free agents Louis A. & the Brazilian Blur? Both are free agents, will play for less than a million a year & last year both wanted to return to the Suns. They already know how to mesh with Dud & Gogi & Frye. Babby & Blanks turned then away last year, while Danny & Ryan hired Leandro the Laker Killer to a vet’s minimum deal. Will Ryan interview Dud & Gogi to get their input on how to improve the team? Sure bet that, if he does, they will tell him to take them back. Will Channing Frye be healthy enough to join them? If so, they could be a heck of a starting unit, while having Alvin mold the newest & youngest draft picks & acquired guys (with the vet presence of a JO or Luis & the hustle of a PJ) into a brand new “killer bench unit.”

    MUST reunite that former killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • CoachJ

    Interesting list of potential candidates. My thoughts on each [I know 4 different assistant coaches in the NBA and they have commented to me on many coaches and players in the league. I take all of that with a grain of salt knowing that many people are threatened by others in the profession, but still, the feedback is interesting]:

    Avery Johnson: From everyone I have heard that knows him, he is simply too hard on players. While I completely respect that, I am not sure it works with current NBA players. “I am not sure Avery can take a bad team and get them to play hard because they may tune him out” – NBA Assistant

    Nate McMillan – Hear good things about him, but his track record is hard to ignore. Yes, he suffered through injuries to key players, but still had FAR more talent on his roster in POR than the Suns yet could not manage getting them to play. His career is riddled with inconsistency from year to year. Not sure he is the guy.

    Kelvin Sampson: Thank god we have no code of conduct to worry about here. Sampson shouldn’t even be coaching. This is a guy under a “show-cause” right now. I am not for hiring people that cheat. There are too many good people out there that deserve opportunities.

    Quin Snyder: Another guy with warts. Yes, he had success at Missou, but red flags are there. Why would he resign if he had done nothing wrong? Why has he bounced around the DL and NBA and not maintained any spot very long? Why did he go from the NBA to Russia? That seems like a career going backwards. Can he coach? I don’t know, but red flags shouldn’t be ignored.

    Brian Shaw: Another unproven player who lives off his Lakers pedigree. One assistant coach says “you have to ask yourself, why did this guy get passed over for Mike Brown of all people?” That is a good question.

    Mike Budenholzer: Local guy, but unproven as a HC. Who knows if he is Spurs quality or just rode the coattails. At this point, I would choose him over guys that have proven mediocrity as HC. Will NBA players respond to him? Who knows…

    And a name that nobody seems to be talking about…

    Jeff Hornacek: Unproven as a coach? Yes. Yet so are most of the guys on this list [or proven to be mediocre]. I say roll the dice with Horny. We all love him. He was a proven player – a guy that had to scrap his way into the league and became an all-star. He worked for Jerry Sloan, who was a great mentor to have. And we suck, and will probably fire whoever we hire within 2-3 years. So why not just hire Jeff.

  • Forever is2long

    DBreezy, MKG v Oladipo, I was not in love with MKG and thought Barnes had a greater upside. I like but do not love Oladipo as his offense I guess like MKG does not have the explosion you want from your two guard. Beal probably has greater upside offensively than Oladipo but Oladipo is a better defender.However he is a safe pick. I would take McLemore over Oladipo . As for Barnes v Shabazz, I like Barnes a lot because he is a decent defender and can put the rock on the floor. In speaking with a division 1 college coach, he feels Bennett and Shabazz are poor defenders. I tend to agree with that analogy.

  • DBreezy


    I posited the question because there are broad similarities in the hype/negatives with the guys I listed. Beal and BMac both billed as next Ray Allen types. Oladipo and MKG as really hard working, explosive athletes, defenders, intangible guys, suspect shots (who knows if MKG wouldn’t have shot better after 3 college seasons like say a Hakim Warrick). Barnes and Bazz as guys who came in with hype that in hindsight they had little chance of living up to in college. Barnes was supposed to be the next Grant Hill on and off the court and Bazz was supposed to be a Kobe/Harden combo. Barnes went into a UNC program with a lot of other draft prospects and Bazz went to a similar situation in UCLA for a coach who’s system isn’t known for showing guys well.

    It’s interesting to think about some of this stuff and what it ultimately meant for those players on the next level.

  • Beasley’s No.1 fan


    Phil Jackson was never an option for the Suns.

    Ryan McDonough was the best candidate available out of all the options.

    I know we all love to bash Sarver and Babby but for once lets give them credit for making a good decision.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    MKG v Oldadipo: MKG is 2″ taller, 233 lbs, with a 7′ wingspan. His size and length are excellent for SF, while Oladipo is just of average size for SG. So they wouldn’t play the same position.

    They are similar in that they are seen as high motor guys and athletic defensive specialists. The question on both is to what degree their offensive games will grow.

    Oladipo is older than MKG. MKG is 19 right now, while Oladipo is 21. So if Oladipo appears to have a slightly more advanced offensive game (44% 3 pt shooting versus 22% by MKG), consider where MKG might be in two more years.

    In a normal draft, I think Oladipo would be going much lower due to his advanced age and the emergence of his game only in the last season.

    Beal v BMac: It may not be a basketball measure, but Beal is the brighter of the two. Beal was a pre-med major while BMac was academically ineligible for his freshman season. Beal was scouted more highly early on, while BMac struggled with self-discipline issues (expulsion from Oak Hill, arrested for drinking as a minor).

    Physically, Beal and BMac are about the same size, length, and weight. BMac is a more accurate shooter, but he can lose focus and struggles to create his own offense, whereas Beal can create for himself and others and play for stretches as PG.

    So BMac is an offensive weapon in transition or if he’s set up, but Beal (despite being the younger of the two) has the more well-rounded game, with creation and leadership abilities.

    Barnes v Shabazz: First, let me note anecdotally that in a social situation (shooting an interview video), I was surprised to see that Barnes assertively dominated and led guys you’d think would be natural leaders, like Kendall Marshall and Kyrie Irving. That he took charge and they let him, shows me he’s got intelligence, maturity, and leadership qualities.

    Physically, Barnes is 2″ taller, but they have the same weight and same 6′ 11″ wingspan. They are the same age, and they have basically the same shooting percentages. Barnes is the better athlete and defender of the two, while Shabazz is the most offensively aggressive. Both players fail to create for others, and both players tend to be weak around the basket, despite their length.

    If you want to stop Shabazz, you make him put it on the floor. He can’t shoot well off the dribble, his moves are predictable, and he doesn’t fly to the hoop, either. Furthermore, you take advantage of him by pressing him on defense, because if his offense is droopy his defense tends to be even worse. By comparison, Barnes is generally more fundamentally sound.

  • DBreezy


    I see a lot of the same things. For me the first two comparisons were more about relative games and skill levels.

    The one between Barnes and Shabazz to me was more about expectations coming into school and how they handled them as their games are very different. I suppose you could also have thrown PJ3 in that category too, but Barnes and Shabazz seem to fit better in that regard. Barnes struggled even more than Shabazz did initially and really only came around at conference tourney time from what I recall.

    What really made me think of it was that I was looking at several players high school tapes on YouTube, mostly of current and past one and done guys. While you can see that coming in out of shape and overweight cost Bazz some bounce relative to high school, he was pretty much the same player at UCLA you saw on those high school tapes but with a better standstill jumper. I looked at Harden’s as well, as that was one of the comparisons for Bazz and Harden basically was the guy we saw at ASU and in the pros. You saw just as many drive and dishes as jerky jerky finishes with Harden. You saw no passes and an attacking machine with Bazz which is pretty much what we saw at UCLA.

    I looked at some other guys and you often saw the same thing in their freshman year vs high school. That shouldn’t be surprising but it seems to be on mock drafts, I wonder if the same will happen to the 2014 guys who will also have trouble living up to the hype already being set for them? What’s hard to tell is how much they can or will grow their games as you rarely get to see 3 years like Oladipo or even two like Barnes, Sullinger, and Zeller.

  • suns fan in portland

    Being here in the Northwest and watching and attending many Blazer games, I am very familiar with both Mo Cheeks and Nate McMillan. I love Mo as a player and a person, but I would strongly caution against hiring him as the next coach of the Suns… Nate on the other hand, I feel is a very good coach, much better than the results he had in p-town. I’m not sure however, if a rebuilding project like the Suns is a good fit for him or not, but I wouldn’t be against it. He is a VERY good defense coach and would have the respect of the players.