The Phoenix Suns promoted Earl Watson to interim head coach Monday evening after firing Jeff Hornacek following the team’s return from Dallas late Sunday night. The Suns will likely finish out the season with Watson at the controls before conducting a comprehensive coaching search, according to the Arizona Republic.
Watson began his coaching career last year as an assistant coach with the Austin Spurs of the D-League. The 36-year-old began this season as an assistant coach, primarily in charge of working with the guards, before being promoted to full-time assistant after the firing of Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi on Dec. 28. Watson appeared in 878 games during his 13-year NBA playing career with six different franchises, averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 assists.
Watson reportedly beat out fellow assistants Corey Gaines and Nate Bjorkgren for the temporary gig. Gaines and Bjorkgren, along with Bob Hill, who was recently hired per Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical, will serve as assistants. Watson will make his debut on Tuesday when the Suns host the Raptors.
The next 33 games will likely be Watson’s audition for the full-time position, and he will have his hands full as the Suns have a ton of issues. Phoenix owns the fourth worst record in the league at 14-35 and has lost 26 of its last 32 games. The Suns biggest problems are on the injury front, a toxic clubhouse and a non-existent defense. Hornacek had several well documented battles with current and former players. Hornacek went 101-112 in his two plus seasons at the helm.
It is not that the Suns aren’t talented. Phoenix has a budding star (Eric Bledsoe), a defensive stalwart in the middle (Tyson Chandler) along with several youngsters, namely Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, TJ Warren and Devin Booker.
If Watson does well the rest of the season, he is not guaranteed the job as Phoenix will likely look at several potential candidates. Among those expected to be considered include Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni along with perhaps Hill and Luke Walton.
Nash is reportedly high on Phoenix owner Robert Sarver’s list of potential head coaching candidates due to their professional relationship. Nash played 10 of his 18 years in the NBA with the Suns. Sarver also owns a controlling interest of Spanish soccer club Real Mallorca and Nash is a board member with RCD and has input on all soccer decisions. Nash isn’t believed to want to become a head coach or even an assistant coach at this juncture of his career, preferring to focus on his three young children as well as his other interests like his consulting job with the Golden State Warriors and a general manager gig with Team Canada.
In fact, ESPN is reporting that Nash had to be lobbied hard by several Golden State Warriors management team members – including coach Steve Kerr – to agree to join the organization. However, the 41-year-old is only required to spend a couple of days a month with the team.
While Nash could likely develop into a fine NBA coach, it is hard to imagine that he could be convinced to take the Suns job with everything he else he has going on. Nash was considered to be one of the headiest players in the league, but the Suns are arguably a mess right now and it wouldn’t be a quick fix.
D’Antoni would also be an interesting choice and perhaps one of the better fits for the how the Suns are currently constructed. D’Antoni has done some good things in Philadelphia since being named associate head coach under Brett Brown, plus he has a ton of coaching experience and history with the Suns.
D’Antonio spent five seasons with the Suns (2003-08) leading Phoenix to three Pacific division titles and four playoff appearances, including a Conference Finals berth. He has 12 years of NBA head coaching experience and has produced an overall record of 455-426.
Hill, 67, has nine years of NBA head coaching experience.
Walton did a fantastic job leading the Golden State Warriors while Kerr was dealing with his injury.
With a lot of potential talent, there will likely be many other candidates rumored about in the coming months.
[Photo by Ross D. Franklin/ Associated Press]