Besides the Phoenix Suns, there are another seven (seven!) head coaching openings this spring, And that doesn't even include Keith Smart in Sacramento who still has a job but knows a new ownership is taking over the team. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have filled their spot with Mike Brown - formerly of the Cavs with the Los Angeles Lakers in between.
A head coach is important during the draft process to run the individual workouts with prospects and give his take on which players would be best fits for his coaching style and offensive and defensive schemes. Players and coaches have to be able to understand each other and somewhat speak the same language, or their performance on the court might suffer. Especially with rookies.
Lottery teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers all need coaches. Pseudo-lottery Milwaukee Bucks need a coach as well. Three openings exist on playoff teams: The Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers came up short of expectations and decided the coach was the problem.
Why are teams waiting so long to fill their coaching position?
Because some of the best coaching prospects are still roaming the sidelines in the Conference Finals, that's why. Brian Shaw (Indiana), Mike Budenholzer (San Antonio), David Fizdale (Miami) and Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger (Memphis) are all on the short list of favorites.
Indiana, in particular, has declined all interview requests through the end of the playoffs. Not only is Brian Shaw on a lot of teams' lists, so is GM Kevin Pritchard to take over front office openings.
Fizdale and Joerger, who have never been head coaches in the NBA, are wanted by the lottery-bound rebuilding teams.
Hollins, whose contract expires in June, is coveted by teams with big aspirations like the Clippers, Nets and maybe even the Hawks.
Shaw and Budenholzer are wanted by everyone - they are long-time #2 men ready for the #1 position. They have the perfect profile for any coaching position. They will have their pick of openings.
For established coaches, the Clippers and Nets openings are the very cream of the crop. Guys like Alvin Gentry and Nate McMillan will be hot after those positions because your first year could include a Conference Finals appearance without adding any new talent. Those teams want the best of the best, and will likely try hard to grab Lionel Hollins before anything else.
The Atlanta Hawks position is quite interesting as well: they have a GM with an open pocketbook intent on adding huge names this summer. If they land Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in a package deal, the Hawks could be playoff contenders. But if they miss on Howard (most likely to return to LA or sign with Houston if Paul doesn't come to Atlanta too) and Paul, the cupboard is bare. Josh Smith wants out, and he's the next best free agent on the market. So this position is a wildcard risk. Latest rumor has Budenholzer at the top.
The other openings all have tough days ahead. All are in the lottery or just on the cusp of it. There's an exciting challenge to taking over a non-playoff team, but also a lot of pressure to make it work quickly.
It's still hard to tell exactly which guy is at the top of the Suns priority list. Suns GM Ryan McDonough hinted the other night that his timeline had slowed down on the coaching front, partly because of the complexities involved in interviewing coaches still in the playoffs.
J.B. Bickerstaff (Rockets) and Steve Clifford (Lakers) formally interviewed this week for the Suns job. Lindsey Hunter interviewed last week, and Jeff Hornacek (Utah) and Kelvin Sampson (Houston) are likely coming to town very soon. So too will Quin Snyder (Russia) and maybe even Mike Malone (Golden State). McDonough said he's conducted a number of phone interviews as well.
But there is no end in sight, and McDonough is prepared to host prospects in Phoenix without a coaching staff and without even his primary player development guy still under contract (Corey Gaines, who is coaching the WNBA Mercury right now).
Without a coaching staff or a player development staff beyond Ralph Sampson, who exactly is going to conduct these player workouts? That's a big question. Bench coaches Dan Panaggio and Noel Gillespie are still available, I believe. Probably, the Suns will bring in some hired-guns to help organize and conduct the workouts.
Update: Lead Assistant Igor Kokoskov is still under contract through end of June as well, and could be tapped to lead workouts. Kokoskov coaches the Georgian team each summer, so I'm not sure when he leaves. Plus, his contract is up soon.
Expect the Suns to run a tight ship and make the player workouts as good as anyone's. Certainly, their medical evaluations, headed by Aaron Nelson, will be world class. The Suns identify good players. But it's not ideal if your entire coaching staff isn't taking part in the evaluation process.
While the Suns already have access to most of their favorites, my guess is that Shaw and Budenholzer are way up there and McDonough won't want to make a decision until he can at least talk to both of them.
Budenholzer has been made available for interviews between series, but nothing has been made public of a formal interview with the Suns.
Shaw has not. He hasn't talked to a soul. It seems he's at the top of everyone's list, though Hollins and other established coaches might get the nod in Brooklyn and LA.
McDonough hinted that his list is growing and shrinking at the same time, meaning the names are changing. It's possible he's also after Lionel Hollins himself. Hollins used to coach in Phoenix, so it wouldn't hurt to at least talk to him right?
McDonough may also want to talk to Joerger and Fizdale as well.
Regardless, don't hold your breath on a new coach yet. Just hope the Suns get the guy they really want, not the first available.
The 2013 NBA Draft is still just over four weeks away. While NCAA games have been over for two months and the annual Draft Combine is in the books, we just figured out the draft order.
Now the NBA's worst teams can start honing in on single players at their pick with full knowledge of who's ahead of and behind them. While there's plenty of talk of trading away picks and moving up and down a few spots to get the right value, the likelihood is that the top 5 picks will go to the teams who currently hold the top 5 picks.
Because this is the NBA, and individual talent is king. Only five guys play at one time, and a single player can mean the difference between winning and losing. Talent trumps all. You can't win with marginal players. So why would a team drafting in the top 5 trade away their pick?
It's happened, but almost never to the benefit of the team that gave away that top pick. Boston traded the #5 overall pick in 2008 to acquire Ray Allen. Memphis and Minnesota swapped the 3rd and 5th picks a few years ago. Minnesota traded the #5 overall pick to Washington for a couple of role players. Sacramento traded it's #5 pick seven months later to the Rockets for a bag of beans and a lint ball.
There's a couple more examples, I'm sure, but the point is that teams keep their top-5 picks almost all the time.
So let's look at the team needs at the Top 5 of the Draft. I am going primarily with the adage that with a top-5 pick you don't draft a position where you're already boasting a young up-and-coming player who projects to be just as good.
The Cavs have gotten lucky with the ping pong balls lately, but that has yet to turn into wins. Drafting #1, let's only look at the best 6 players in the draft: C Nerlens Noel, SG Ben McLemore, SF Otto Porter, SG Victor Oladipo, PF Anthony Bennett, PG Trey Burke.
Really, for the #1 pick you have to narrow down to Noel, McLemore and Porter. Maybe Burke, but probably not.
With former #1 overall Kyrie Irving at PG, former #4 overall Dion Waiters at SG and former #4 overall Tristan Thompson at PF, I am guessing that the Cavs will not draft at those positions when they pick #1. This rules out SG Ben McLemore and PG Trey Burke.
I assume the choice is down to two players: Noel and Porter.
Noel is the better top-end talent, but he's injury-prone.
Porter is healthier and appears to be a great fit with big-time scorers already on the wings in Irving and Waiters.
My pick: Nerlens Noel
The Magic did a huge tear-down last summer and brought in a number of young player who performed well last season, showing promise that will continue to flourish in the years to come.
But C, SG and PG are currently being manned by veterans who won't be around when the Magic start winning again. With Noel off the board, that leaves McLemore, Oladipo and Burke as the choices for the #2 overall pick.
Given McLemore's talent, youth and upside, I have to go with McLemore here.
Secondary option would be PG Burke - who just may end up being the younger version of the guy already starting at PG for them: Jameer Nelson.
But still, McLemore has the highest upside. Gotta take him.
The Wizards look to be in great shape right now. They jumped up from the #8 spot while enjoying a playoff-caliber second-half run on the backs of former #1 PG John Wall and former #3 SG Bradley Beal.
With those two already on hand, I will rule out McLemore, Oladipo and Burke.
Otto Porter would be a great fit at the SF, just like he would have been for the Cavs. Putting Porter in there to do everything except dominate a game would be a nice compliment to scorers Wall and Beal.
A secondary option for this team would be PF Anthony Bennett. The Wiz need front court scoring, and Bennett can provide points galore.
Still, I go with Porter. Perfect fit, and the best remaining talent on the board.
Poor Bobcats keep getting terrible records and keep losing out in the lotto. After missing out on Anthony Davis a year ago, they drop to the fourth position here in 2013.
The Bobcats still need everything, though they do have youth at certain spots that's not worth drafting to replace right now.
The Cats (soon to be Hornets) boast a good young PG in Kemba Walker, a good SG in Gerald Henderson and last year's #2 overall pick in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The presence of MKG rules out Porter if he's still available.
The remaining options on my version of this draft are Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo would be a great fit if the Bobcats decide to let go of Gerald Henderson. But for a team that would struggle to sign free agents, why let a 25-year old SG leave just to replace him with a rookie? Better to fill other holes than to create one that doesn't already exist.
The Bobcats need talent at the PF or C position. If Noel is somehow still on the board, they take him for sure. Maybe you even bring a new name into this mix here: C Alex Len. Len won't be working out for anyone in the next month, so I have no idea how his stock would rise this high, but it could.
Still, the best fit at this spot, given who's already been taken, is PF Anthony Bennett. Bennett can give the Bobcats a legit front court option to go with their talent on the wings.
The best remaining, in my humble not-a-scout opinion: SG Victor Oladipo. PG Trey Burke. C Alex Len.
To me, Alex Len is just a younger version of Marcin Gortat. Maybe a bit tougher, but otherwise he's at least 2-3 years away from proving he's even close to a double-double machine that Gortat already is. And the Suns have proven that a double-double center doesn't win you basketball games.
The downside of Oladipo is that GM Ryan McDonough said the Suns need what we all know the Suns really, really need: shooting. Oladipo isn't a shooter. He may be everything else, but he's not a pure shooter or shot-creator. It's quite possible that a C.J. McCollum jumps all the way to #5 to the Suns because of just that - shooting. But the mark against McCollum is that he's a combo guard who profiles best as a scoring PG, and the Suns already have one of those in Goran Dragic.
Like the Bobcats who don't need to replace Henderson when they have a lot more holes to fill, the Phoenix Suns don't need to replicate Goran Dragic already.
Time to fill a hole that's already deep at a position of need with the best remaining talent.
Drum roll please...
Phoenix Suns take Victor Oladipo!
Celebrate, Suns fans. And hope that Oladipo develops a consistent outside shot.
Arguably the Phoenix Suns most thrilling playoff run was twenty years ago. We relive the run with game-by-game recaps as the Suns down the Lakers, Spurs and Sonics before falling to the Bulls in the NBA Finals.
Since the current iteration of the Phoenix Suns is on vacation during these playoffs, we at Bright Side thought it would be fun to relive the Suns' exciting 1993 playoff run with recaps of each game, starting with Game 5 of the Western Semis. Revisit yesteryear while we wait for the Suns to rise again.
After a thrilling come-from-behind first round series win over the Los Angeles Lakers ("and everyone's gonna say what a great series it was"), the Phoenix Suns faced an equally big opponent in the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs had just beaten defending Western Champ Portland Trailblazers in round one, and saw the smaller Suns as their next step on a Finals run of their own.
David Robinson was a beast surrounded by role players that made them greater - and more frustrating - than the sum of their parts (where have I heard this one before). Avery Johnson. Sean Elliot. J.R. Reid. Antoine Carr. Dale Ellis. All good players, but all role players around a Hall of Fame center.
The smaller Suns had led the league in scoring, by a wide margin, and boasted a passable defense (9th in efficiency vs. 18th in points allowed) to win a club record 62 games before the playoffs started.
(again, where have I heard all this before?)
Charles Barkley was the Suns Hall of Famer in 1993, putting up 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game, along with a block for a good measure. Charles had truly an historic season, one that has not been topped in the valley - either in terms of raw stats or raw impact - since. You could argue that Steve Nash made the same, if not bigger, impact (and certainly a more long-lasting one) but Nash never guided the Suns to the Finals and never in the way that Charles did.
The Suns supporting cast was a who's who for Suns fans: PG Kevin Johnson (MIP, 3-time All-Star, 5-time All-NBA). SG/SF Dan Majerle (3-time All-Star, 2-time All-Defensive). F Tom Chambers (4-time All-Star, 2-time All-NBA). Danny Ainge (1-time All-Star). Ced Ceballos (1-time All-Star). Mark West. Oliver Miller. Richard Dumas. Tim Kempton. 4th-quarter Frank Johnson.
Man, that was an exciting team. The Suns painted the town orange that year. Chambers, Kempton and West still work for the Suns to this day. Ceballos was their in-game entertainer for years. Majerle was a TV guy, then coach. Barkley still lives in the valley. In many ways, the 1993 team is still part of the franchise fabric.
Boxscore - courtesy of basketball-reference.com
The Suns returned home for Game 5 after letting the series get tied up 2-2. "It's never very hard to play on the road," shooting guard Danny Ainge quipped. "It's just hard to win on the road."
Feasting on home cooking and a rocking home crowd, the Suns muddled through three tight quarters before Charles Barkley lit up the night with 19 fourth-quarter points, including 16 in a 6-minute stretch. Barkley put the Suns on his back and carried them home when they needed it the most.
Barkley finished the game with 36 points (on 16 shots and 15 free throws) and 12 rebounds. He got great support from Kevin Johnson (15 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds) and Dan Majerle (17 points, 4 rebounds). As a team, the Suns shot 59.7% for the game, a huge improvement over shooting less than 42% in each of the losses in San Antonio.
The crowd was electric. The Suns attendance ranked 5th in the league that year, with every single game sold out and playoff tickets really hard to come by. My dad went to every game and will never forget that series.
Up next: another showdown in the Alamo for Game 6. Could Barkley and the Suns step up on the road?