New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was reportedly one of the reasons why the Phoenix Suns hired new head coach Igor Kokoskov this summer.
Kokoskov worked under Gentry as an assistant for three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and then reunited with Gentry on his Phoenix Suns’ staff in 2008-09. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was an executive for the team for two of those seasons in Phoenix.
Marc Stein wrote that Gentry firmly believes in Kokoskov (via New York Times):
“This was an inspired, gutsy hire by the Suns. Kokoskov’s offensive creativity and readiness were unquestioned in league coaching circles, but the fact remains that no N.B.A. team had ever hired a European-born-and-reared coach for a top job before the Suns chose the Serbian. The strong recommendation of New Orleans (and former Suns) Coach Alvin Gentry, league sources say, helped convince Phoenix to take the gamble on Kokoskov, who was an assistant with six different N.B.A. teams before his big break. Let’s see, though, if the Suns’ owner Robert Sarver shows as much patience with the new hire as he has with General Manager Ryan McDonough, who has had more draft misses than hits and whose roster sports a glaring hole at point guard — as well as a star in Devin Booker whose season will start late because of hand surgery.”
The Serbian-born coach was first hired as an NBA assistant for the Clippers when Gentry took over as the head coach for the franchise in 2000-01. Seventeen years ago, Gentry told reporters that Kokoskov is best “working one-on-one” with players.
During their time together, Gentry and Kokoskov worked with many players including Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Goran Dragic. Gentry has said that Kokoskov was instrumental in helping develop Dragic, who led the Slovenian National Team to Eurobasket Tournament in 2017 under Kokoskov.
Gentry has had nothing but positive things to say about his former colleague (via ArizonaSports.com):
“[He is] somewhat of a quiet guy. He likes being behind the scenes from the standpoint of he’s not looking for any glory or anything like that. I just think [because of] his relationship with players, it was just a matter of time before somebody was going to see that and hire him… This is going to be one of the best hires they’ve ever made.”
If nothing else, it’s fascinating that Gentry’s co-sign played such a key role in helping the 46-year-old get his first head coaching gig in the NBA.