The Phoenix Suns find themselves in a tough spot right now where they need to address several situations before they can continue on their path towards returning to the NBA Finals. Chief among those is finding a new head coach to replace Monty Williams.
The need to hire the right person even more important than the issue of trying to shore up a rotation that became porous in the wake of the trade for Kevin Durant. The shortlist of finalists for the role was recently shared on social media, and amongst the various veterans in line for the job was current assistant coach Kevin Young.
An individual who came with the distinction of an endorsement from current Suns’ superstar Devin Booker.
While it is important to keep star players happy, especially in a market like Phoenix and when the organization are close to competing for a championship, the idea of hiring Young is a case of right person, who has come along at the wrong time, for the team.
To be clear, Young has an excellent reputation with the Suns’ players and there is no doubt that in the near future he is going to be the right person for a head coaching job. Perhaps with the Suns, but more likely given where the team is right now somewhere else.
But to hire Young at this critical juncture would be a mistake from new owner Mat Ishbia and the front office, and there are several reasons why they would come to rue this decision. Even if Booker has been vocal in his opinion that Young would be the right person to get the team back on track.
We have plenty of recent examples throughout the league that show us that first time head coaches do not excel in a situation like the Suns would present to Young. Durant has already been through something similar, with first time head coach Steve Nash at the helm while he was with the Brooklyn Nets.
Young has more coaching experience than Nash, but there is no doubt that going from even an assistant coach’s role to that of main man is a steep learning curve. It is one thing to have Booker’s endorsement, but do Durant and Chris Paul feel the same way as their teammate?
It is easy for Booker to place his trust in somebody and believe that in the next three to five years he can lead them to the promised land. To be clear, Young is absolutely capable of doing just that. But neither Durant or Paul have that kind of time to hope that everything breaks the way they want it to and the Suns win a championship.
Perhaps then current Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is a more cautionary tale. Mazzulla was the man who got the job by virtue of the missteps of previous coach Ime Udoka and assistant Will Hardy leaving to lead the Utah Jazz into whatever future they hope to achieve. Mazzulla inherited a team which, like the Suns, was ready to contend.
They currently find themselves 3-1 down to an eighth seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the mothballing of Grant Williams among some of the puzzling calls Mazzulla has made. It may be that the Celtics make history and overturn a 3-0 series deficit, but if they do not as is expected, Mazzulla is sure to become the fall guy.
This despite going one step further than Williams brought the Suns this season. With the margin for error so small, what chance would Young have if the Suns didn’t win it all next year? Going in another direction, and Hardy had himself a fantastic first season in charge of the Jazz.
This is because expectations were low, and the aim of the franchise was never to win a championship. It is a lot easier to look like you know what you’re doing and to be given time when the front office don’t expect immediate results, as has been the case with Hardy.
Head coach Jamahl Mosley of the Orlando Magic is another such example. He has just completed his second season as the main man, after more than a decade as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets. During this period he has lost a ton of games, and cultivated youngsters like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.
Yet despite being given the job of overseeing a rebuild, and to this point succeeding, there are still those who would rather see him canned in favor of somebody else. Make no mistake though, Mosley is doing a good job with a young team, with two full seasons of building a culture and trusting that it will mesh with the young core to equate to winning in future all he has to show.
With those parameters established for rookie head coaches in rebuilding situations, what chance would Young have? Not only would he be tasked with winning right away, he would have to be the right choice for not only Booker, but Durant and Paul too. Throw in the uncertainly surrounding DeAndre Ayton and his role with the Suns, and it gets even harder to juggle for a rookie coach.
Kevin Young is not only an excellent assistant for the Suns, but somebody who will one day run his own team. There is overwhelming evidence that this situation is not the one for him, and that the organization would be better off seeking a veteran voice, as long as their name is not Doc Rivers. The Suns need to win, and the variance in hiring Young to be head coach is too great to go for it.