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.”

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.

New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: ‘I think I’m in the best place in the league’

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Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly finish fourth in Most Valuable Player voting this year, his age-23 season.

The last coach to take over a team with a player who already accomplished so much at such a young age – Del Harris (a familiar name in Milwaukee), who inherited reigning MVP Moses Malone with the Rockets in 1979. It’s just so rare for jobs coaching such a promising player top come open.

“I think I’m in the best place in the league,” new Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference today.

Budenholzer had his pick of Milwaukee and Toronto, another highly successful team, especially for one seeking a new coach. But the Bucks offer Antetokounmpo and more modest expectations.

Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Budenholzer was asked today as much about delivering a division title as an NBA title.

Topping the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons and Bulls sounds much easier than surpassing the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and 76ers in coming years.

Not that Budenholzer, who reached the conference finals with the Hawks, is completely ducking big talk.

“We’re lucky to have a Giannis, who will do anything to win, and a Khris Middleton that will do anything to win,” Budenholzer said. “When you have your best players that are true competitors and that are truly unselfish and care more about the team than they do themselves, those are a couple of big, foundational blocks to winning championships and doing things that are special.”

The Bucks held the press conference at their still-under-construction new arena, the media wearing hard hats and orange vests:

But this isn’t a complete rebuild for Budenholzer.

Milwaukee has made the playoffs the last two seasons, including winning 44 games this year. Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Middleton is a borderline All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is a solid starter. Restricted free agent-to-be Jabari Parker is talented. The rotation is somewhat deep.

The Bucks just underachieved under former coach Jason Kidd (and never capitalized before him for more than a decade for other reasons).

Citing the potential of current players, Budenholzer said Milwaukee could become “elite” defensively. The Bucks are full of long and athletic players, and Budenholzer coached sound defenses in Atlanta. There’s only one reason to doubt him: Milwaukee finished just 17th in points allowed per possession this season.

But that’s a feature of this job, not a bug. The Bucks aren’t stuck with an inevitably bad defenders. They just underperformed. Budenholzer can nudge them ahead – and is positioned to receive outsized credit if he does.

“Working with the entire with the entire roster, with the front office, with ownership,” Budenholzer said, “I can’t wait to take us to the next level in Milwaukee.”

That next level isn’t that high, which is why Budenholzer is right.

Milwaukee is a great place for a coach to be.

Mike D’Antoni: Rockets ‘played soft’

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The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 last night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

We didn’t switch up into people, we didn’t box off. It’s just one thing led to another. Played soft, actually.

His stars agreed.

James Harden:

He’s right. We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We started off the game pretty solid, and then we let them gain some confidence to end the first quarter. You know, but just defensively they didn’t feel us and it showed tonight.

Chis Paul:

Coach is right. We’ve got to be better. I think, you know, we’ve got to come out more aggressive. We were letting them hit first, you know what I mean? They were running their screens and all that stuff like that. I mean, we know that we’re at our best when we’re in transition and not taking the ball out the net. And tonight we were taking the ball out the net. We had 19 turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic of us. We knew we were going to get a great game from them being back here at home, but we’ve got to be better Game 4.

That’s a harsh assessment – but at least somewhat warranted. The Rockets applied far too little defensive pressure, and they missed shots inside and committed turnovers as if they were rattled.

I don’t think the Rockets are soft. But they looked soft in the face of Golden State’s elite ability.

The Warriors pressure teams into mistakes and then exploit many of them. Play that doesn’t look soft against other opponents suddenly does against Golden State.

Houston can toughen up before Game 4 Tuesday. Acclimating to the Warriors’ high level of play, especially at home, could help. The Rockets are good enough to hang at this level.

But it certainly won’t be easy.