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.

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