Ryan McDonough

Suns introduce GM Ryan McDonough, who says his first order of business is to hire a new head coach

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PHOENIX — The Suns held their introductory press conference to introduce new general manager Ryan McDonough on Thursday, who made it clear that cementing a strong candidate in the team’s head coaching position was the highest of priorities.

Lindsey Hunter was placed into the interim role after Phoenix parted ways with Alvin Gentry 41 games into the season, and was underwhelming in finishing the year with a 12-29 record.

No decision has yet been made on Hunter’s status. But the way McDonough was speaking about the search planned to fill the head coaching chair for next season would lead you to believe that the team will look high and low elsewhere for a more solid long-term solution.

“I’m going to spearhead that process, and the process has already begun,” McDonough said. “That was part of my interview with [team owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby]. We discussed potential coaching candidates, and who we thought would be good fits, and we were in alignment on a lot of the names — most of the names.

“So we have an initial list to go off of. We’ve received a good amount of interest from people all over the basketball world who want to be the coach of this storied franchise, and they see a great opportunity here. That’s my first order of business as the general manager, to find the best guy for that job.”

When talking about lists of names of potential candidates, that wouldn’t appear to bode well for the chances of an interim head coach retaining the spot for next season.

But when asked if it was fair to say that Hunter’s name might be further down on his list, McDonough wasn’t ready to publicly declare Hunter as out of the running just yet.

“No, I don’t think that’s fair to say,” McDonough said. “We will meet with Lindsey. I don’t know him that well personally, but I’ve heard good things about Lindsey’s character, and his toughness, and his work ethic. So Lindsey is a candidate. I know he’s interviewing for jobs elsewhere, but he’s a candidate for us as well, and we’re going to go into it with an open mind and consider all the top guys. And Lindsey is one of the top guys.”

McDonough then went on to describe the qualities he and the organization will look for in its next head coach.

“I think the most important thing to find in our head coach, the next head coach of the Suns is someone who’s a leader,” he said. “We need someone who commands the respect of the players, commands the respect of the entire organization. We also need someone who’s a teacher, who can help our young players to develop and get better and maximize their individual talent. So the list that Lon and Robert and I have compiled, all the guys on that list have those characteristics, and I’m confident we’re going to get somebody really good.”

Again, that simply doesn’t sound like Hunter. And that’s to be expected.

Hunter was a favorite of the team’s previous general manager, Lance Blanks, and was awarded the role without having any prior coaching experience at any level. It’s not uncommon for a new GM to want to hand pick the head coach he’ll work with during his tenure, and that’s especially true in a situation like the one in Phoenix that will require multiple years to rebuild the franchise to a respectable level of success.

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A few other notable quotes:

– McDonough said he expects his philosophy to be very similar to the one of Danny Ainge, who he learned the job from in Boston.

“Danny Ainge is probably my professional mentor,” he said. “I think my philosophy will be the same. In Boston, one of the things Danny did so well, he was very aggressive in acquiring draft picks and trying to get the best players through whatever means necessary. One of the things that I learned from Danny Ainge is to be unafraid, and that not very move is going to be perfect. I’ll probably make some mistakes. But if you’re willing to work at it, and correct some of those mistakes — and again, if you’re unafraid — then that can lead to some great results.”

– McDonough stressed the importance of the draft — an area which hasn’t exactly been a strength of the Suns franchise at any time in the recent past.

“I would say that generally, you have to draft well — that’s the life blood of your franchise. That’s how you’ll have sustainable success over the years. Now that being said, if a great player wants to come play for the Phoenix Suns next year, and we have the space to get him, we have the ability to get him, then we’re going to go get him.”

– McDonough is a big proponent of using analytics, and will make sure everyone he brings on board will similarly understand the value of them — including the team’s next head coach.

“I think understanding the value of analytics is important for everyone in a basketball operation,” he said. “The college scouts need to understand it, and we need to develop a great model where we can study guys in the past and see which stats have translated into NBA success, and maybe which ones have not.

“We need to embrace all the newest trends that the good teams in the league are embracing. That’s adjusted plus-minus, emphasizing corner threes, the value of two-for-ones — and those are just a few examples of the things that we’re going to ask our head coaching candidates about during the coaching search. I’m positive that the next coach of the Suns will understand the value of all those things.”

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.

Carmelo Anthony on talk with Jackson: “We didn’t break bread….It was a short conversation”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t long. It wasn’t outwardly contentious. But you can bet it was colder than the weather outside Madison Square Garden in January.

Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony sat down and talked about Anthony’s future with the Knicks Tuesday, with Anthony reiterating again he doesn’t want to be traded. And since he has a no-trade clause and two years on his deal after this one, he has the power.

Anthony seems done with the entire topic and is ready to move on. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“The conversation was not that long. We didn’t break bread,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t have hours of conversation. It was a short conversation.”

This entire topic came up when Phil Rosen — a Phil Jackson confidant who swears he’s not a surrogate — penned an article saying Anthony was willing to accept a move to the Cavaliers or Clippers (or maybe the Lakers). The move felt like a classic Jackson mind game move where Anthony was forced to respond to it — and Anthony seems done with the drama.

“I’m done asking why,’’ Anthony said. “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.

“I’m committed [to the Knicks]. I don’t have to prove that to anybody. I don’t have to keep saying that and keep talking about it. I know for a fact people know that and people see that.”

Anthony is ready to move on, is Jackson? Or do we see another mind game move coming?

Anthony isn’t going anywhere, not in the short term. Even if Anthony would entertain a trade to those mentioned, markets, you think the Cavaliers would like to give Kevin Love‘s minutes and some of LeBron James‘ touches to 33-year-old Anthony? You think Doc Rivers would swap 27-year-old Blake Griffin for ‘Melo? Anthony is expensive and while he can still score the other limitations in his game make it very hard to trade him.

Jackson is the master of convincing guys to do what he wants and think it’s their own idea, but I have a hard time seeing that happening with Anthony.

Kevin Durant reflects on “AAU basketball” of Durant/Westbrook/Harden Thunder

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden
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If MVP voting took place today, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would be in a photo finish for the win — they are the clear first and second choices in that race. Third could well be Kevin Durant, who is having a strong and efficient season in Golden State (it’s who Dan Feldman and I said we would pick third during the PBT Podcast, although certainly guys like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard and others are in the mix).

Remember when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were all on the same team? The NBA’s ultimate “what if?”

Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News got Durant to reminisce about those days (the Warriors play the Thunder and Rockets this week).

“It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”

Could they have ruled the NBA for a decade?

“No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”

It was Harden that was traded — he wanted and deserved the max, the Thunder has spent on Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. They weren’t willing to pay the costs — the luxury tax bill would have come calling — to keep all three. The other side of that debate: Could Harden have continued happily in his sixth man role? This guy dominates the ball now (he leads the league in time of possession this season), would he have stayed coming off the bench to win?

“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”

Maybe, and maybe that would have been enough. It’s all moot now.

But what if?