Igor Kokoskov is the first NBA head coach born and raised outside North America, but he reminded everyone at his introductory news conference with the Phoenix Suns on Monday that he didn’t exactly just get off the plane.
“I don’t consider myself as a European coach,” he said. “I’m an NBA coach.”
Kokoskov, 46, just finished his 18th season as an NBA assistant coach. He’s been with six different teams. Some played slow. Some played fast. He has been on the staffs of seven squads to reach the conference finals. This game is not new to him.
“As a coach, I’m not spoiled,” he said. “I think your job is to build and create from what you have in front of you. I’m the kind of guy who loves my team. I love my guys and they can feel it.”
Kokoskov was named head coach of the Suns last week but, as an assistant with the Utah Jazz, he had to finish his work in the playoff series against the Houston Rockets before turning his attention to the desert.
He was an assistant with the Suns from 2008 to 2013 and became a U.S. citizen during a ceremony on the court at Phoenix’s Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“We really, as a family, the Family Kokoskov, consider Phoenix as a home base,” he said. “This is always home base.”
Although he certainly has paid the traditional dues as an NBA assistant, he knows he’ll also have the label “foreign coach.”
Kokoskov praised the “courage” of Suns owner Robert Sarver and the team’s management to hire a “rookie coach, international coach, foreign coach.”
“I kind of carry some responsibilities because, if this fails, then American media and the public are going to say, ‘See, they can’t coach. We’ve got to stick with our guys,’” Kokoskov said.
But any ultimate judgment, he said, will come from what happens on the court.
“It’s all about winning,” Kokoskov said. “It doesn’t really matter if you’re an international or American coach. All that matters is can you get it done and can you coach?”
He inherits a team that went 21-61, worst in the NBA and second-worst in franchise history. The Suns haven’t made the playoffs in eight seasons but do have the most ping pong balls in Tuesday night’s lottery to determine what team gets the No. 1 overall pick.
Still, Kokoskov said the Suns have “a good solid foundation.”
“With a couple of guys maybe we’re going to add, obviously we are expecting a lot from the upcoming draft and free agency,” he said. “That is something that we have a long summer to discuss, to talk, but the foundation is there.”
Kokoskov, who coached Slovenia to the EuroBasket 2017 championship, said he’s not wedded to any particular style of play, that it will depend on the talent at hand. When he was with the Suns, there was Steve Nash and it was a fast pace.
“I was fortunate to be part of a winning team and be part of the team with Steve Nash and Grant Hill and the rest of the guys,” he said, “being part of the staff with Alvin Gentry.”
Kokoskov was there when the Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2010.
But the years have not been kind to the once-vibrant franchise since Nash’s departure.
General manager Ryan McDonough has said the time is now to inject some more experienced talent into the current mix of youngsters, who are led by burgeoning star Devin Booker.
Kokoskov gets the task of trying to fulfill that ambition.
The team, he said, needs to be playing on television in June, and he wasn’t talking about its perennial appearance in the draft lottery.
“I think the city of Phoenix deserves that,” Kokoskov said. “I think the fans that love basketball deserve that and we’ll do our best to bring this organization and team into that path. We want to be in June on TV.”