Hey Phoenix, This Bud’s For You
You know when you’re at a buffet, and you fill up your plate with chicken wings and pork chops. Then when you go to sit down, you realize that there was prime rib the whole time, and you just missed it. That’s how I feel after writing over 1,500 words on the Suns’ coaching search right before they were granted permission to interview Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer. I didn’t even know that was an option! Can we bring in Brad Stevens in for an interview too? Coach Pop?
If I would have known that Coach Bud was in the mix, he would have immediately jumped to the top of my rankings. The Hawks may have been awful this year, but they had a roster that even Suns fans felt sorry for. Budenholzer took the Hawks to the playoffs four years prior including a 60-win season with Al Horford as his best player. He’s a part of the Popovich coaching tree and is very well-respected across the league. Even though the Suns promised to do their due diligence in this coaching search, they should pounce on Budenholzer as quickly as possible.
The Hawks will probably look for compensation of some sort, although I’m sure they’d just be happy to shed his 2 year/14 million-dollar contract amid a rebuild. I don’t think the Suns would have to give up more than this year’s second round pick (31st overall) or two future second rounders. (For reference, Doc Rivers was traded for a future 1st rounder that ended up being 28th overall). If it came down to it though, I’d even be willing to part with their Heat pick this year (16th overall). I think he could be that impactful to the franchise.
In his exit interview, Devin Booker said that he’s “done with not making the playoffs.” Most Suns fans rolled their eyes at the thought of a 21-win team suddenly turning into a playoff contender. They were ranked dead last in both offensive and defensive rating. If the Suns were to have playoff aspirations next year though, it would have to start with a complete culture overhaul. Budenholzer is one of the few coaches available that I would trust to do that. I think he could even turn Dragan Bender into a useful player (okay, maybe that’s a bit too optimistic).
One of the most frustrating things to watch as a Suns fan this year was the constant ball watching especially when Devin Booker had the ball. Budenholzer would instill a motion offense predicated on ball movement that would force the young Suns out of those bad habits. (Can you imagine Luka Doncic in a Budenholzer system? Because I can’t stop imagining it.) On defense, ball watching was a popular Suns’ past time as well. There was no accountability as the young players were allowed to play through their mistakes. Budenholzer would change that. In each of his first four years in Atlanta, the Hawks were top-10 in defensive efficiency. He would preach team defense for a roster devoid of great individual defenders.
Some may wonder why Budenholzer would even want to come to the Suns. Why would he leave one tanking team for the ultimate tanking team? Well, the Suns are further into their rebuilding process than Atlanta. The Suns core of Booker, Josh Jackson, and their top-4 pick is more impressive than Atlanta’s, despite strong seasons from John Collins and Taurean Prince. Budenholzer hasn’t seen eye to eye with Atlanta’s front office recently, so he may want a change of scenery. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s an Arizona native. The only reason Cleveland has a championship is because LeBron happened to be born close to there, so I’m okay with taking advantage of Budenholzer’s roots.
The Suns are entering their most important offseason in recent memory, perhaps ever. They’ve got a budding superstar in Booker with a promising young sidekick in Jackson. They’re about to add a top-flight prospect in one of the strongest drafts in years. They have the assets and potential cap space to bring in a superstar through trade or free agency. More importantly, they have a GM who’s starting to feel the heat to put a winning team together. If Ryan McDonough is truly looking to accelerate “The Timeline” and start winning, then hiring Mike Budenholzer would be the perfect first step.