The Phoenix Suns have officially parted ways with the NBA’s winningest coach over the last three years. The reason? Monty Williams couldn’t get them over the hump to bring the franchise its first championship.

Following the Suns’ embarrassing Game 6 defeat at home during the Western Conference semifinals, new owner Mat Ishbia reportedly made the decision to cut ties with Williams, a coach he had “never warmed to,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. After a second straight year where Phoenix fell short of expectations in humiliating fashion on their home-court, this type of move is surprising, but not shocking.

Williams’ fate was one of the biggest question marks for the franchise this summer, and now it appears the 2022 Coach of the Year will be looking for a new gig. For the time being, it appears general manager and president of basketball operations James Jones is safe. Contrary to ESPN’s report, he took ownership of the decision to part ways with Williams.

“Monty has been foundational to our success over the past four seasons,” Jones said in a statement. “We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community. While it was difficult for me to make this decision, I look forward to continuing the work to build a championship team.”

On Friday during the team’s exit interviews, Williams had said job security was not something he was concerned about, but he understood nothing was guaranteed in this NBA economy.

The Suns have decided good wasn’t good enough, and are now making another risky, all-in move to pursue the franchise’s first championship. Whether it’s the right call will depend entirely on what comes next.

There will be time to consider what Monty Williams’ tenure meant to this franchise (check back tomorrow, dear reader, after it’s had time to properly marinate), but for now, all this begs the question we haven’t had to ask since 2019: Who will be the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns?

Let’s sift through five candidates that might make sense, as well as a few honorable mentions.

Honorable mentions

David Vanterpool — Not long ago, Vanterpool was frequently mentioned as the next up-and-coming assistant who’d eventually get a crack at a head coaching position. It hasn’t happened, but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have credited Vanterpool with the role he played in helping them develop. He most recently served as an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets last season.

Terry Stotts — Another name that hasn’t been mentioned in the head coaching carousel for a while, Stotts would be an experienced hire, but may lack the championship experience the Suns desire. Going from one coach who may have reached his playoff ceiling in Phoenix to a guy who repeatedly bumped his head on the Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff ceiling probably isn’t the right idea.

Nate McMillan — I mean…McMillan was around the team for a few days in March? It’d be weird for him to take over Williams’ job considering their shared history together in Portland, but he’s been a well-respected, long-tenured coach around the league. Like many of the other names on this list, however, he’s never gotten his team to the mountaintop. In fact, he’s only made it past the first round of the playoffs twice in his 19 years as a head coach. Firing the guy who helped build your culture just to make a slight downgrade would be a mistake.

Adrian Griffin — Griffin is another long-time assistant who’s been getting buzz for an NBA head coaching gig over the last few years. He is currently being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks job, and his experience with the Toronto Raptors (2018-present), Oklahoma City Thunder (2016-18), Orlando Magic (2015-16), Chicago Bulls (2010-15) and Bucks (2008-10) as an assistant speaks to his experience on a number of teams.

Sam Cassell — It’s only a matter of time before Cassell joins the ranks of “former NBA player turned head coach.” The question is which team gives him a crack at it first. Cassell currently serves under Doc Rivers with the Philadelphia 76ers, and has been with him since 2014, when he was an assistant for the LA Clippers. The Suns don’t feel like the right fit for this type of swing, however, since a first-time head coach would be inherently risky.

Becky Hammon — Hammon has earned interviews for NBA vacancies in the recent past, and her name has been mentioned for the Raptors’ current opening. However, her current position with the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA makes Phoenix an unlikely landing spot, as does her response to the Raptors rumors:

Steve Kerr — It wasn’t long ago that the Suns were mentioned in conjunction with Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, whose contract expires this summer. If owner Mat Ishbia decided to poach him for Phoenix, speculation about Kerr would undoubtedly ramp up. With that being said, even after a disappointing second-round exit, there’s no reason to believe the Dubs are ready to move on from Kerr, who helped bring them four titles over the last decade.

Kenny Atkinson — The Nets made a mistake firing Kenny Atkinson back in 2020. He deserves another shot at a head coaching gig, and Phoenix would be a nice fit, considering how his Nets teams played at a fast tempo and got up a ton of 3s. However, there’s the whole question of whether Kevin Durant would even want to play for Atkinson again. KD didn’t exactly call for his head, but reports suggested he was eventually underwhelmed by his coach’s approach in Brooklyn.

5. Kevin Young

Young served as Monty Williams’ associate head coach for the last two years, and he deserves a courtesy interview at the very least. At only 41 years old, he’s coached at every relevant level except this one. He gets along with players and knows this roster well, he’s been one of the driving forces behind the Suns’ vaunted pick-and-roll attack, and he could become the next Nick Nurse type of replacement.

Over the last few years, Young has earned interviews for head coaching vacancies with the Sixers before they landed on Rivers, the Washington Wizards before they picked Wes Unseld Jr., the Utah Jazz after they let Quin Snyder go, the Houston Rockets before they hired Ime Udoka, and most recently, the Raptors. He’s clearly well-regarded around the league, and he’s the assistant closest to Devin Booker.

He’s also in the unique position of knowing intimately what works for the Suns, while also being able to implement changes based on what he’s seen. One example of this was his insistence that the Suns crash the offensive glass more this year, which led to Phoenix ranking fifth in offensive rebounds and eighth in second-chance points.

Booker and several Suns players have praised Young for his preparedness, calling him a genius when it comes to scouting opponents as well as X’s and O’s. Williams has mentioned the team’s “then what” progression through actions on offense was due in part to Young, as well as their “let it fly” mentality. Being Monty’s guy means the Suns might prefer a fresh start, but Young deserves a look at least.

4. Mike Budenholzer

It would be ironic bordering on hysterical if the Suns fired a coach who was criticized in Phoenix for his in-game adjustments, rotations, playoff shortcomings and usage of timeouts…for a coach who was criticized in Milwaukee for his in-game adjustments, rotations, playoffs shortcomings and usage of timeouts.

Obviously, Mike Budenholzer has the one thing Williams doesn’t in terms of a Larry O’Brien trophy, but that was due to Giannis Antetokounmpo turning into a Greek god more than any adjustment Bud made.

Still, his name will be brought up because he’s a champion and two-time Coach of the Year who’s found success with two different franchises. He’s also a native of Holbrook, Arizona, and to be clear, he’s an extremely good regular-season coach who would bring a few new ideas to the table.

But if the idea is to find someone who can improve on Williams’ playoff shortcomings, hiring the guy who’s fallen well short of the Bucks’ expectations in three of the last five years — and just got bounced from the first round in five games as the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference — would be a strange lateral move.

3. Frank Vogel

Vogel flamed out (or rather, was scapegoated) with the Los Angeles Lakers just two years after they won a championship together. His name probably won’t be mentioned with some of the other heavy hitters as much as it should be.

The Lakers missed the playoffs altogether in his final season at the helm, but that was due to their mismanaged roster more than anything. Like most head coaches, Vogel is quite good when he has talent, and he isn’t as effective with bad rosters (sorry, Orlando Magic).

With that being said, the expectation here is that the Suns have a lot more work to do aside from just making a head coaching swap. They need to add more depth around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, and if they’re able to do so, Vogel would be more than capable of knowing what to do with it.

He’s more of a defensive-minded coach, though, which could be a problem considering how much offensive firepower the Suns will have to work with. Phoenix will need a modern, fast-paced offense — traits Vogel’s teams in LA and Indiana never really had.

2. Nick Nurse

Nurse would check two major boxes for the Suns as they search for a Monty Williams upgrade: proven, championship success, and a reputation for making smart in-game adjustments during the playoffs. As an added bonus, he’s also shown he can take over a good situation and turn it into a great one, as he did when he took over the Raptors job from Dwane Casey.

During Nurse’s time in Toronto, the Raptors won a title, missed the playoffs twice and only had one losing season. They won 58.2 percent of his games there, and the team’s 2019 championship run was punctuated by his evident knack for making the right rotations.

However, it’s hard to ignore the tumultuous end to his time in Toronto, which was reportedly mired by conflict, off-court drama, and the team’s underwhelming record. Nurse has the reputation of being a bit of a hard-ass, and while a firmer hand may be needed after Williams, that type of approach can wear its welcome out quickly. Also, if you thought the Suns’ stars played heavy minutes under Williams, just wait until you meet Nick Nurse!

Considering their talent and ability to develop draft prospects, the Raptors have underwhelmed for three years now. Is the magic gone? Or does Nurse simply need a change of scenery and a more talented superstar duo to work with? It’s the type of risk the Suns will have to assess if they consider Nurse, who’s one of the two coaches on this list with a clear tactical advantage over Williams come playoff time.

1. Tyronn Lue

The Suns are firing the guy who helped build their culture and turned them into a top-10 offense and top-10 defense over the last few seasons. The coach who helped them go 8-0 in the NBA Bubble, reach the NBA Finals the year after that, and put together a franchise-best 64-win season the year after that is gone.

That puts an inordinate amount of pressure on Phoenix to nail the hiring of Williams’ replacement, and Tyronn Lue is the only name here that would be an unquestionable upgrade.

The Clippers underwhelmed during the regular season, but time and time again in the playoffs, Lue has proven himself capable of making game-to-game adjustments that make life hell for opponents. Even Williams and several Suns players (including Booker) credited Lue with being the best in the business when it comes to playoff adjustments during their first-round matchup this year.

Lue’s been routinely outmatched from a talent perspective in LA because his stars can’t stay healthy, but he’s done the most with less. That ability to squeeze results out of every inch of the roster could come in handy, depending on how the Suns retool this summer. Even if Phoenix nails its offseason and surrounds Booker and KD with a better supporting cast, the prospect of Lue having more talent to work with is tantalizing.

According to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, the Suns are indeed interested:

The question then becomes, what would it take to lure one of the most coveted coaches in basketball away from his current job? He’s still under contract with LA for the next two seasons, but as The LA Times’ Andrew Greif noted, talks on a potential extension have been quiet.

Lue is basically on the same timeline as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and with new representation, a lucrative offer from a new owner willing to spend could make things interesting. As The Athletic’s Law Murray pointed out, the Clippers have historically allowed their people to explore other opportunities, and if they’re uncertain about keeping Lue beyond this immediate window with their two ailing superstars, it could open the door to an unconventional change of scenery.

However, the Clippers are surely aware of Lue’s value and how coveted he’d be around the league. Would they demand compensation of some sort, given that he’s still under contract, and knowing how desperately teams like Phoenix, Milwaukee or Toronto would pursue him?

If it comes to a bidding war, or even giving LA something for Lue in general, the Suns may struggle to fork over the necessary assets. Ishbia is clearly willing to spend after the Durant trade increased the team’s luxury tax bill, not to mention firing Williams with three years and more than $20 million left on his contract. But Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has little need for cash compensation. Very few head coaches are worth a first-round draft pick, and Phoenix doesn’t have any to offer after surrendering four in the Durant trade. The best they could offer is a first-round swap.

The logistics of how this could actually happen are still murky, but there’s no question Ishbia is motivated to go all in on this team’s championship window right now. Lue would undoubtedly be the best choice to fill that vacancy as the Suns’ new head coach.


Gerald Bourguet serves as PHNX's reporter, writing savant and podcast co-host for all things Phoenix Suns. He's been a basketball fan since the day he could say "Michael Jordan," graduated from the Walter Cronkite School at ASU in 2013 with a BA and MA in sports journalism and has been covering the NBA ever since. As a credentialed media member since 2015, Gerald dealt with his Suns-related depression through his writing...until the Bubble Suns changed everything. Now, the Artist Formerly Known as Zewio is just as excited to cover winning basketball as Suns fans are to enjoy watching it.