When the Phoenix Suns hired Igor Kokoskov as head coach back in May 2018 — the first European born head coach of an NBA team — there was an assumption in many corners of the league this meant Phoenix wanted to draft Luka Doncic (Kokoskov was Doncic’s national team coach). When the lottery ping-pong balls gifted Phoenix the No. 1 pick, they could then land whoever they wanted.
That was not Doncic. Reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Sarver (who wanted the Arizona guy), the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton first overall.
Friday night Doncic dropped 42 on Phoenix, and considering Doncic’s MVP-level start to his second season, there is some buyer’s remorse in Phoenix (Ayton remains out following a PED suspension). Later Friday, Marc Stein the New York Times Tweeted this:
One plan proposed to the Suns in the build-up to the 2018 draft: Select Doncic at No. 1 and make a free-agent run at Clint Capela to fill the C void … especially since then-coach Igor Kokoskov had been Luka's national-team coach. Hard to resist what-ifs in the desert tonight https://t.co/BxwuRrS7Av
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 30, 2019
Getting Clint Capela would not have been that easy. While he was a free agent and could have gone anywhere, the Rockets really liked him and may have gone higher than the 5-years, $90 million they signed him for. Plus, the Rockets were a winning team with James Harden, which is an excellent reason to stay. That said, the Suns could have made a run at him.
Sarver wants desperately for the Suns to have their own superstar, so much so he put goats in the GM’s office to remind him (at least they didn’t poop much). Would the Suns have drafted Doncic over Ayton if Sarver hadn’t taken a side? We will never know. Ayton was a highly ranked prospect seen as an offensive force who could play the modern game (and he averaged an impressive 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as a rookie, while his defense was a challenge it did improve so there is real hope for the future).
Whatever happens, it looks like there are going to be some “how did you miss” questions in Phoenix and Sacramento (and, maybe, Atlanta, although Trae Young mitigates things some) for a long time.