The Phoenix Suns were blown out yet again, and multiple players seem to be clashing with head coach Igor Kokoskov. He’s losing the locker room.
There were signs of Phoenix Suns players lacking trust in new head coach Igor Kokoskov early on. There was Deandre Ayton disagreeing with Kokoskov’s fairly obvious assessment that Ayton needed to be more aggressive. It’s pretty unusual for a rookie to show up his coach like that, and it’s rare for any basketball player to turn down more usage.
There was the blown assignment that left Marcus Morris wide open for a game tying 3 at the end of regulation in a game where the Suns had blown a 20 point halftime lead. The Suns went on to lose in overtime, and after that game, Kokoskov and the team were clearly on different pages in regards to how switches at the three point line were supposed to be handled.
But even through the early tension, it never felt imminent a long term issue would arise. It’s only natural to question authority, and Kokoskov is a first time head coach. Over time, it seemed very likely he and the players would start to figure each other out. But for some reason, that just hasn’t happened.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Kokoskov benched Deandre Ayton in favor of Richaun Holmes. The team might try to play it off as if Ayton wasn’t feeling well, but that clearly wasn’t the case. He only sat the first three minutes, and he played 27 minutes on the night compared to Holmes’ 20. This was clearly a lesson to Ayton about his comments after the Sacramento Kings game implying he gave up after the first quarter.
In a healthy locker room, this would light a fire under a player, especially one as talented as Ayton. But 11 points on 13 shots doesn’t exactly suggest a lit fire, and neither does another blowout loss. The Suns have been outscored 36-9 and 34-9 in two straight first quarters, showing they clearly lack motivation right now. Being without Devin Booker and T.J. Warren doesn’t excuse or even explain those atrocious starts.
Then, later in the game, Kokoskov had a sideline altercation with Mikal Bridges, the team’s other top rookie. Bridges was at Villanova for four seasons under a demanding head coach in Jay Wright. In his four years, he redshirted, came off the bench, became a starter, and then became a star. His ascension has been attributed to his hard work and discipline. He’s not the kind of guy who normally fights with his coach on the sideline.
So what’s the issue? Is it frustration from all the losing? If that’s the case, Kokoskov isn’t the right person to coach a young and raw Phoenix Suns team that’s bound to struggle winning games. Then again, this roster is far better on paper than last year’s group, but their record is much worse, so maybe Kokoskov isn’t the right person to coach any team.
There’s clearly a disconnect between the Phoenix Suns and their coach. Whether it’s a distrust or a disliking doesn’t really matter. Any good coach needs the respect of his players, just like players need need the trust of their coach to succeed. If Kokoskov wants to keep his job past this season, he needs to quickly take steps to gain the respect of his players.