UPDATE: Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Suns have been granted permission to interview Houston Rockets assistant J.B. Bickerstaff and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford. They will also look into Jeff Hornacek and CSKA Moscow coach Quin Snyder.
PHOENIX — The head coaching search for the Phoenix Suns is mightily complicated, moreso than expected. Newly-appointed general manager Ryan McDonough’s chops in the NBA world will truly need to be on display in the next month or so, when he’ll continue to sort out the many NBA coaching candidates that could become leaders of the rebuilding Suns.
“I feel like (the list) narrows and expands at the same time,” McDonough said Tuesday, after the Suns learned they would select fifth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.
He said that it’s been difficult to shuffle his list — once he prioritizes his favorites, others have reached out. Still, McDonough remained confident that the Suns can get the coach they want once the research is done.
Asked if he was any closer to finding the next coach, McDonough could only say that “closer is a relative term.” There are several reasons why the Suns aren’t in a rush.
The timing while continuing to work the draft
The Suns must also juggle draft duties with finding a head coach. This also goes back to talking with candidates currently working for other NBA teams, as they could be deep into the process of evaluating prospects for June. Teams might not want to let them go — after all, they’ve spent years evaluating prospects and to lose that knowledge to another team could be hurtful.
Then comes the issue of having a coach in time for the Suns’ own draft preparations.
“I’m not going to rush the process just to have a guy for the draft workouts,” McDonough said, adding that it would, however, be ideal.
McDonough said he and the rest of the front office staff can help to conduct draft workouts if the head coach isn’t selected in the near future. In addition, some of the assistant coaching staff is still around despite the unclear status of interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. Most notably, assistant Ralph Sampson was present for the Suns’ draft lottery watching event on Tuesday (as an aside, the highlight of the event was Sampson turning up the volume on the highly-mounted flatscreens). Corey Gaines is also in U.S. Airways while running the Phoenix Mercury — though he’s probably a tad busy teaching first overall pick Brittney Griner.
McDonough added that he could still talk to president of basketball operations Lon Babby about adding to his scouting staff.
“Lon and I have to talk a little bit more about that,” McDonough said, who said his list of possible additions are with other teams. “Understandably, their current teams are hesitant to let them go.”
All that said, the good news is that McDonough knows the draft prospects already. He said that the Chicago combine didn’t do much to change his opinions of the players, and that the Suns’ front office staff in place before he earned the GM job has done its diligence in the background research on the potential draft picks.
Number of openings
The list of NBA teams looking for new coaches is only getting longer, and it’s probably the biggest reason a hire might not be made anytime soon. While the Suns suddenly jumped into the fray by getting their GM position settled, it’s only gotten more muddled for McDonough in determining who he sees as first-class candidates. And vice versa, he also must understand who is interested in the Suns.
Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, Brooklyn, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Clippers are all with Phoenix in figuring this mess out. Toronto, whose Dwane Casey might not be safe now that Bryan Colangelo isn’t in charge of the basketball operations, could be added to the mix. Memphis, as crazy as it might seem, could later be shopping for a new coach because it didn’t sign an extension with coach Lionel Hollins and won’t begin negotiations under the playoff run is over.
The Suns will need to fend off other teams to get their man. And they must sell themselves to do so.
“It’s a competition,” McDonough said.
Teams still in the playoffs
Though there are now four NBA teams in the playoffs, a number of very good candidates remain busy. San Antonio Spurs coach Mike Budenholzer, who is from Holbrook, Ariz., is one name that could be appealing to the Suns. The Indiana Pacers have Brian Shaw on their staff, a longtime candidate to become an NBA head coach. And the Miami Heat have assistant David Fizdale still coaching under Erik Spoelstra.
Part of the issue is being considerate of the teams still in the playoffs.
McDonough said most NBA teams have been kind enough to grant Phoenix permission in speaking with coaching candidates, but it’s always a chore to avoid stepping on toes with coaches currently under contracts elsewhere.
Last night, Michael Schwartz and I discussed the fifth overall pick, and though we have no idea what the Suns will do, we do think that Victor Oladipo would fit the bill.
Others apparently agree. Jeff Goodman and Matt Moore of CBS have the Suns picking the Indiana shooting guard with the fifth pick in their updated mock drafts (they have the Suns taking North Texas forward Tony Mitchell and Kansas center Jeff Withey with the 30th overall pick). So does ESPN’s Chad Ford in his 3.0 mock draft (Insider required) for 2013. Ford has North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock going 30th to the Suns.
Draft Express has Otto Porter falling to Phoenix at fifth and Kentucky shooting guard Archie Goodwin going 30th.