One of the solutions to the Phoenix Suns’ problems can be found in the class. A Kindergarten classroom.
Teachers hate it when so-called professionals say they can lead a class; and they become particularly annoyed when someone outside of education claims that teaching is “easy.”
The number of strategies that are utilized when running a smooth class, one that reaches every learner on a fundamental level, number well beyond what a student realizes or outsiders can see.
To be a successful teacher one must learn how to truly reach their students and adapt to the almost literal fingerprint that each class has. As any teacher will tell you, there are no two classes alike another – even if the entire actual body of students remains the same while the teacher is the one who changes.
Knowledge and information do not make one a great or even good teacher. A teacher must have the knowledge not only how to teach, but reach, and appropriately hold accountable their students, before they can ever find success in the classroom.
What outsiders expect is necessary and what a teacher knows is needed are often entirely different and divergent understandings of how to be successful at the job. An outsider might believe that the focus should be on the content and knowledge thereof, while a dedicated teacher knows it is so much more.
In sports, franchise’s expect their athletes to be adults; to be self-motivated, know their craft, and dedicate themselves to the want to learn how to integrate themselves within the schemes. Franchise’s often do not believe they should push their roster to want to do so and bring in players with an expectation to not only do so, but know how to.
These franchises all make the same mistake – and this occurs over, and over, and over again.
Regardless of the makeup of the team, management hires coaches who know how to scheme, to design, to implement, and strategize. Their coaches expect a learned level of athlete, not appreciating the intellectual construct of the modern, young, professional athlete.
Under Robert Sarver, the Phoenix Suns, time and again, have hired general managers and thus coaches who are strategizers and schemers, men well versed in the intellectual side of the game, but not teachers, those who know how to reach the players on a profound level, not only coaching them up in regards to “the plan,” but how to scaffold the player’s way up to a particular ability to succeed.
The problem that the Phoenix Suns have regularly faced since the era of tanking has begun has been that – aside from Earl Watson – they have regularly hired head coaches who expect a greater level of professionalism and buy-in than they have been given.
A roster full of young players who are only a year to a couple of years out of high school is not going to be ready for such a change in mental direction.
(I mentioned Watson in a different light only because not only was he not a competent strategist, but an educational imposter as well. Watson believed that he could teach and used quotes and often ridiculously foolish wanna-be philosophical phrases as a guise for basketball wisdom, when in fact, he knew no more how to lead a classroom and truly teach a student than a janitor cleaning the empty halls of a school at night believing that he too could walk into a classroom and lead the students to success the next morning.)
The Phoenix Suns need a teacher, someone who can both reach their students as well as coach the strategy. Excite and inspire. Encourage and scold. All while guiding the younger players through the adult and mature world that is the professional sports.
I do not know if Igor Kokoskov can teach. My early presumption is unfortunately that he can not. My presumption is that he can lead learned men, but to reach the younger players the way a teacher must reach his student, he may likely not be in his correct element.
Where the Suns and their coaches have failed not only the organization and it’s fans but the players themselves, is in not continuing the teaching that the young players should have been receiving had they been playing four years of college, thus developing them more slowly and methodically, planning and demanding more repetition in practice and less in games.
The organization (and let’s be honest: fans and the media alike) believe that getting the players into games and receiving experience in certain situations will not only make them better but do so faster.
But ask yourselves this: would you be okay throwing a student-surgeon into surgery and expect success with only a basic knowledge of the job?
How about a general on a battlefield without a solid understanding of military strategy?
Or even a writer without a solid grasp on language?
What would have been more successful over these past few years would have been the organization looking at games more like a student’s tests, and the practices more as a means of learning the process of playing before the planned assessments.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that Igor is the wrong mind for the job. I believe that as an intellect, he is probably very good at that side of the job. He seems like someone who can draw up a plan to win a game as well as any other head coach the Suns have employed since Mike D’Antoni. This is why he has found success on the world stage with his international teams – teams comprised of veterans of the game, men who need guidance in the playbook, and less as students of basketball.
The mistake in hiring Igor is that the Phoenix Suns jumped the gun. They did what a lot of us believed they should do: expect that the young players will mature simply by age, ignoring the fact that they must be taught how to grow and mature within the game, the way a traditional student has to be taught to grow and mature in the classroom.
The Phoenix Suns need a teacher. They need a college coach.
The need someone who knows how to strategize, but teach.