Budenholzer reminisces on Arizona past, but turns to future leading Suns

New Phoenix Suns head coach Mike Budenholzer speaks during a news conference introducing him Friday, May 17, 2024, in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Mike Budenholzer got a little teary-eyed talking about his past in Arizona, describing an idyllic childhood in the small town of Holbrook, about three hours northeast of Phoenix.

Those tears dried up in a hurry when talking about his future.

“It’s mind-boggling to me, like mind-blowing, to think that I’m going to be the head coach of the Phoenix Suns,” Budenholzer said on Friday during an introductory press conference in downtown Phoenix.

The 54-year-old Budenholzer replaces Frank Vogel, who was fired on May 9 after one disappointing season. The two-time NBA coach of the year will be charged with getting more out of the team’s All-Star trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal as the franchise continues its chase for a championship.

The group never quite meshed last season under Vogel, finishing with a 49-33 record before getting swept by Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs.

“I’m excited about working with this roster and these players,” Budenholzer said. “We have great players. And with great players come great expectations. I think we embrace that.”

Budenholzer spoke on Friday in front of a few dozen family and friends, including his 94-year-old dad Vince, who Mike called “the original coach Bud.” The younger Budenholzer won the 2021 NBA title while leading the Milwaukee Bucks — a championship that came at the expense of the Suns.

Phoenix has never won a title, advancing to the Finals three times in 56 seasons.

Budenholzer was fired by the Bucks in 2023 after five seasons and didn’t coach in the NBA this past season. He also coached the Atlanta Hawks from 2013 to 2018 and has a 484-317 record over 10 seasons.

Before he went to Atlanta, Budenholzer spent 17 years as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich.

“This year, for me, was really healthy,” Budenholzer said. “I kind of had a list of priorities, diving into my kids and my family, super important. We’ve been through a lot. So really, the time with my kids was just amazing. My son’s a senior in high school — going to every one of his games — driving home you’re like ’Wow, I got a gift.”

As much as he loved the chance to recharge, he’s ready to get back on the court.

“I’d like to keep coaching as much and as long as I can,” he added.

Now the difficult work begins to reshape a Suns roster. Phoenix doesn’t have much room to maneuver under the league’s salary cap because of the big contracts for Booker, Durant and Beal. The team’s other two projected starters — Grayson Allen and Jusuf Nurkic — are also under contract for next season.

The Suns didn’t have a true point guard last season and struggled with turnovers, particularly in the fourth quarter. Budenholzer made it sound like he’d like to add at least one point guard during the offseason.

“The conversations have been great and there’s no doubt that we need to look at the whole roster and talk about point guard,” Budenholzer said. “I’m sure it’s a hot-button issue here, whether it’s with the media, players or the front office. We need to think about it.

“We need to be able to play without one. We probably need to be able to have one. We need to be versatile — play different ways.”

But before he starts thinking about point guards or turnovers, the coach spent much of Friday savouring his chance at a dream job.

“The biggest message I want you to hear is that I would coach this team if it was on the moon,” Budenholzer said, grinning. “I would coach this team if it was in Alaska. If these players were in Denmark. … I would go anywhere to coach this team.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.