MIAMI — Whenever Heat point guard Goran Dragic faces the Suns, he’s reunited with plenty of familiar faces after spending six seasons with the organization.
But his list of connections just got longer after Phoenix hired Igor Kokoskov as its head coach on Wednesday. Kokoskov was the head coach of the Slovenian national team last summer when the small country won the EuroBasket tournament championship behind the play of Dragic.
Kokoskov, a native of Serbia, coached the Slovenian national team in 2016 and 2017. He became the first European-born assistant in the NBA, with the Clippers in 2000, and is currently serving as an assistant with the Jazz.
“Congrats to Igor Kokoškov well deserved, great coach !!!! Good luck @Suns,” Dragic tweeted Wednesday night.
And the Suns could add another Dragic connection in this year’s NBA draft. Phoenix, which finished with the league’s worst record, will have a chance to draft coveted Slovenian prospect Luka Doncic — a projected top-five pick.
Is this all leading up to a Dragic-Suns reunion? Not necessarily, because a 31-year-old point guard who turns 32 on Sunday doesn’t make a lot of sense for a rebuilding franchise.
But when Dragic becomes a free agent in the 2020 offseason, the Suns will be an attractive option for him if Kokoskov is still the coach and an even more attractive option if Doncic is on the roster.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun/WAXY 790AM, WAQI 710AM (Spanish)
Records: Miami 4-6, Phoenix 4-7
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
F: Okaro White
F: Josh Richardson
C: Hassan Whiteside
G: Dion Waiters
G: Goran Dragic
F: T.J. Warren
F: Marquese Chriss
C: Tyson Chandler
G: Devin Booker
G: Mike James
Scouting report: The Suns traded disgruntled point guard, Eric Bledsoe, to Milwaukee on Tuesday for Greg Monroe and two draft picks. That leaves Devin Booker, who was taken three picks after Justise Winslow in the 2015 draft, as the team’s primary scorer. Booker is averaging 21.6 points this season and 18.3 in 165 career games. Meanwhile, Winslow is averaging 7.2 points in 106 career games. … The Suns have lost three straight in which they have allowed 110 points per game. … They are giving up the second most points in the league, 114.8, and are 26th with a 107.8 defensive rating. Phoenix is the third-worst shooting team in the league at 42.7 percent. … The teams split the season series last year with each winning on its home court. Goran Dragic had 40 points in the two games. Booker scored 38. … The Heat are 1-2 on this six-game road trip and are coming off a 97-80 loss to the Warriors in which they held Golden State to 36.8 percent from the field. In their last four games, the Heat have held their opponents to an average of 96.0 points on 40.2 percent shooting. … Hassan Whiteside is looking to bounce back after being benched in the second half of the Warriors game. He finished with three points on 1-of-9 shooting and six rebounds in 16 minutes. … Miami is expected to have Dion Waiters back in the lineup. The starting shooting guard missed the last two games to be home for the birth of his daughter. … The Heat have won 13 of their last 14 games against Phoenix.
MIAMI — The Heat blamed their defense for Sunday’s loss to the Blazers.
But Miami (35-36) can point to its defense as one of the driving forces behind Tuesday’s 112-97 win over the Suns (22-49) at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat have now won 24 of their past 30 games since falling to 11-30.
Six-time NBA All-Star and 14-year veteran Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement on Tuesday, signing a one-day contract with the New York Knicks before calling it a career.
The 33-year-old spent his first eight season with the Phoenix Suns, before taking his talents to the Big Apple during the 2010 offseason and playing four and a half seasons with the Knicks. Stoudemire was then sent to Dallas in the 2014-15 season, before he played one final season with the Miami Heat.
The next stop in Stoudemire’s NBA career may be Springfield, as the Florida native has a fairly strong case for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Over an eight-year period, from his second season in the league through his first season in New York, Stoudemire was one of the most dominant forces in the game. During that stretch, Amar’e averaged 23.2 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 blocks while shooting 54.3 percent from the field. By comparison, certain Hall of Famer Tim Duncan averaged 22.5 points and shot 50.7 percent during the best eight-year offensive stretch of his career.
Stoudemire’s career numbers also compare favorably to those of another surefire Hall of Fame player, Kevin Garnett. In his 14-year career, “STAT” averaged 18.9 points on 53.7 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Garnett has averaged 17.8 points, 10 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks while shooting 49.7 percent from the field through his first 20 seasons.
Critics will look to Stoudemire’s lack of career longevity and the seasons cut short due to injury as the most prominent arguments against his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Despite the injuries, though, he was considered not only a dominant player, but, in a way, a revolutionary one as well. Stoudemire and Steve Nash led the Phoenix Suns’ “Seven Seconds or Less” offense, which made it to the 2005 Western Conference Finals, and they then reached that mark again the next season, although Stoudemire didn’t appear in that playoff run.
A 22-year-old Stoudemire turned in one of the greatest playoff series performances of all-time in those Western Finals against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. In five games, Amar’e averaged 37 points a game on 55 percent shooting and added 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He did not score fewer than 31 points in any game, yet the Spurs still won the series 4-1.
The “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns laid the groundwork for the fast-paced, small-ball basketball that spawned the current NBA powerhouse Golden State Warriors. Several current NBA teams have attempted to duplicate the Suns’ blueprint, and nearly every squad is looking for big men that can run the floor and shoot efficiently from the perimeter.
Stoudemire’s contribution to that movement should not be forgotten, and his role in changing the NBA’s perception of big men may be enough to land him in the hallowed Hall in Springfield.